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November 23, 2014

Selling Up-and-Coming Neighborhoods

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Selling Up-and-Coming Neighborhoods

How do you promote a struggling area with potential for growth and development? Experts offer some marketing tips for these communities.

Real estate professionals are often engrossed in hot and happening ‘hoods in their market. But what about struggling areas of town that could use a promotional push?

Neighborhood developers and promoters at the American Planning Association’s national conference, held in Chicago this week, addressed this issue in a session titled “Neighborhood Marketing to Rebuild Market Demand.” Here are a few tips from these experts on how to market less trendy and thriving parts of a community more effectively.

Focus on the Positive

All participants in this session repeatedly emphasized this same point. Start by asking residents how they feel about their community assets and pull from those responses some of the crown jewels of the neighborhood. What makes the area special? What are the particular points of pride for both long-term and newer inhabitants?

It’s not always easy to find the gems, but if you ask residents what they love about their neighborhood, you can sometimes form an entire marketing campaign from their responses. For example, while the instability that plagued the Chicago neighborhood of West Humboldt Park was deleterious to the neighborhood’s self-perception, residents still had a great deal of pride on a block-by-block level.

John Groene, Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago’s neighborhood director for West Humboldt Park, said that fact helped them choose a tagline that represents their community. The tagline, “Get in your starting block,” is a call for people who are ready to set down residential or commercial roots to consider investing in the neighborhood.

“It’s a call to action,” he said. “It’s supposed to evoke the pride in blocks in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood.”

Apply Branding Basics

Work with creative agencies or individuals to create a logo, as well as a tagline. But don't let these important elements gather dust on letterhead. Whenever possible, work to integrate branding elements into events and other programming.

For example, the tagline created for the Middle Main neighborhood in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., “just a little off-center,” referred both to the area’s geography as well as the hip, creative, quirky image that neighborhood advocates wanted to cultivate.

Hudson River Housing Director of Organizational Development Elizabeth Druback-Celaya says that, while their tagline was somewhat controversial at first, they used it to promote wellness walks in the neighborhood (“Walk Middle Main: Take a little off your center”) as well as their Middle Main laboratory site (“Creative solutions are a little off center”).

Make It Easy to Connect

Ed Barlow, director of client services for municipal branding consultancy North Star Strategies, says that while it’s easy to get caught up in your own marketing needs, you should always keep in mind that organizations, nonprofits, corporations, and schools in the area have varied obligations to which they must attend.

“You want to organize your programming in a turnkey way, so it’s easy to connect with you,” Barlow says. He adds that this is especially important to marketers who are looking for funding partners: “Folks who get the private sector involved the quickest … have the most success.”

Don't Shut the Media Out

While local reporters may seem like they’re trying to tear down your efforts with every negative news story, they might just need a second opportunity to get to know the area.

“Try to drown it out with a bunch of positive stories,” Groene advises. When West Humboldt Park was portrayed by a local reporter as crime-ridden, his organization invited the reporter back to take another look. “We challenged him to come back and do some positive stories. [Sometimes all it takes is] challenging them to not just do the easy headline.”

Druback-Celaya agreed, saying her organization managed to overcome such problems directly, partly because they’re operating in a smaller city.

“We have been able to get some editorial board meetings with the paper,” she said, suggesting organizations in larger media markets may be able to “form strong relationships with a few reporters” instead.

Build a Virtual Neighborhood, Too

A Web presence is a must for neighborhood marketing, but it shouldn't just be an online events calendar. While MiddleMain.com functions as a "social networking site" for the Poughkeepsie neighborhood, West Humboldt Park’s site features profiles of local businesses to highlight both up-and-coming investors in the neighborhood as well as long-term business interests.

Involve Current Residents in a Sensitive Manner

Make it clear that you’re not out to displace anyone or use community development funds on flashy marketing campaigns.

Groene’s group reaches out to residents who are facing a wide variety of challenges. Neighborhood Housing Services works to keep home owners in the homes through foreclosure prevention, helping them find overlooked property tax exemptions and more affordable insurance options. Groene says they enter these home owners into a large database of people they’ve assisted “to create the perfect mailing list” for getting their news out to the neighborhood.

The city’s long-term occupant tax exemption also helps home owners stay in their residences even after gentrification brings property values up.

“It is the most important law we have in the city of Chicago,” Groene said. “It truly is revitalization and not displacement.”

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