Advertising a pretty package

Strategy: As part of Ellicott City's beautification project, the city is considering a unified advertising campaign to attract tourists.

Howard Business

April 09, 2001|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

On the heels of a Main Street beautification project, the Ellicott City Business Association is considering launching an advertising and marketing campaign to help draw tourists to town.

Chris Cotter, owner of Cotter Advertising on Main Street, last week presented the executive board with an ad strategy for the Main Street business district and historic areas. Cotter said he volunteered to devise the campaign about a month ago after he learned about the ECBA's beautification project.

"As a business person here and a resident, there didn't seem to be an organized effort to promote Main Street," he said. "You have all these organizations in Ellicott City, but the goal is the same - to restore the town, make it nice, a good place to work and live."

The proposed ad campaign focuses on reasons people visit the town - for history, antiques, dining, ambiance - and the slogan, "Ellicott City. It's pretty." points to those reasons by adding different adjectives. For example, an ad for dining could read "Pretty. Tasty." over an etching of a crab, while a lure for the history buffs could read "Pretty. Historic." over an etching of an old-fashioned train engine.

Cotter presented different ways the ads could be used, showing them in the shape of a billboard, shopping bags, and a banner, which the ECBA is purchasing as part of the beautification effort. At least one of the ads showed how the campaign could be expanded to lure visitors for events such as a classic car show planned for Father's Day weekend. The board, with the background etching of a classic car, read "Pretty. Classy."

"I have a whole long list - there's a million of them," Cotter said. "We needed a campaign that added all those things that sounded like it's coming from the same voice."

ECBA board members will meet again next week to discuss whether to accept the project, and decide how much money the group can commit to it, said Jared Spahn, ECBA president.

If the group decides to support the effort, it would become the first targeted market strategy for the town, local leaders said.

"Right now, the only way I can represent Ellicott City in trade shows is by the individual businesses," said Melissa Arnold, director of marketing for the Howard County Tourism Council. "To have a brochure representing all of the stores and historic sites would be wonderful."

Arnold said the Tourism Council could also help the ECBA foot the bill for some of its advertising, by offering discount rates and sharing the costs. She said if the town settled on an ad theme and slogan, the Tourism Council would use them in the advertising it does for the county.

"It's our job to run with them on their marketing campaign," she said. "I'm so thrilled ECBA is running with this and developing its own identity."

Business leaders at last week's presentation also seemed to support the marketing idea, and the package Cotter put together. Some participants at the meeting even began brainstorming other uses of the theme, such as napkins or flags, that individual businesses could buy into.

"The campaign is outstanding," said Ned Rogers, a Main Street psychologist and vice president of the Ellicott City Restoration Foundation. "It's not just `this promotes business.' This gives a sense of place. He really touched on what's special about Ellicott City."

The ECBA recently began efforts to beautify Main Street by purchasing potted trees to set along sidewalks and buying banners to hang from utility poles. It seemed from the meeting that the group is considering ordering custom banners to kick off the marketing campaign.

The group is also organizing quarterly events designed to draw visitors, and it is trying to raise money to purchase a trolley. To help in the fund raising, the group announced last week it will hold a "Taste of Ellicott City" progressive dinner at the end of May, featuring local restaurants.

Partygoers will be transported on the town's new trolley, which should be operating by the middle of next month, Spahn said.

"We have all nine restaurants in," Spahn said. "We're excited. They're putting an elegant dinner together."

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