Branding Helena: A Cynic’s Response

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The city of Helena wants to make itself a more attractive
vacation
destination. Tourist spend money and create jobs,
which is why so many cities compete for their attention. The idea of branding Helena might generate some civic discussion, but 
I'd rather the see the city work on practical solutions than
marketing.

I read through the proposal, and it offered a number of
practical suggestions to improve Helena as tourist destination and
community. Will a catchy slogan make a tourist return to Helena or
promote to a friend? Not nearly as much as friendly parking, clear
directions to attractions, beautified commercial areas, a downtown
open for business during the evening, and easier access to the
things that make Helena unique will.

What kind of practical solutions? Think for a moment about entering
Helena if you were from somewhere else. The two main access points,
Prospect Avenue from I-15 and Euclid Avenue from US-12, are from
inviting. The signage is incredibly obtrusive and frankly,
obnoxious. We do have some incredible shops and a lovely downtown
area, but if the first impression a town generates is one of crass,
neon commercialism, a prospective visitor is just as likely to get
a hotel room or gas and get the heck out. Cities have been very
successful regulating signage to create a more inviting community,
and I don't think any of us who live here will miss the flashing
neon signs outside of our casinos, restaurants, and even hardware
stores.

In the era of "mission accomplished" and "No Child Left Behind"
it's all to easy to let slogans substitute for substance. Asking
the people of Helena to come up with a new "brand" is an
entertaining exercise that's harmless fun, but wouldn't that
money be better spent improving the experience of visiting Helena?
Until we commit to improve the experience of being in our unique,
historic, fascinating little ciy, no slogan in the world is going
to make visiting (and returning) any more likely.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it’s a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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