Lincoln aldermen vote unanimously to hire DCC Marketing

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[December 11, 2015]  LINCOLN - On Monday, December 7, Lincoln aldermen voted for the second time this year to hire DCC Marketing to create a branding initiative and a promotion playbook for the city of Lincoln.

In May of this year, aldermen took a similar vote and approved hiring the firm. At that time, it passed with a 5 - 2 vote. Aldermen Michelle Bauer, Scott Cooper, Todd Mourning, Marty Neitzel and Steve Parrott voted ‘yes’ with Kathy Horn and Jonie Tibbs voting ‘no.’ Alderman Jeff Hoinacki was absent on that evening.

Many may have thought that the decision was made and that the firm had been instructed to move forward with their research, but that was not the case.

This fall, in an effort to clarify what had happened, City Administrator Clay Johnson was contacted by LDN. He said that while the vote would have enabled the city to move forward with the hiring of the firm, there were several extenuating circumstances going and the decision was made not to follow through at that time.

The city was undergoing some significant changes in city government during that period. Former Mayor Keith Snyder had resigned earlier in the year, and Marty Neitzel was acting as an interim Mayor. The council was discussing who to name to the position in a permanent capacity.

When Scott Cooper was appointed Mayor, the plan was to revisit the vote then, but that didn’t happen due to the untimely death of the new mayor. Once again, Neitzel took the role of interim mayor, and the council found itself down one alderman.

On September 21st, Neitzel’s role with the city moved from Interim Mayor to Acting Mayor. In the position of Acting Mayor, Neitzel would retain her aldermanic seat and ability to vote until such a time as she replaced herself as Ward 4 Alderman.

On November 2nd, Neitzel sought and received approval from the city council to fill the Ward 1 vacancy with Tracy Welch, which brought the council back up to eight members.

On November 9th, a special workshop meeting was held solely for the purpose of rehearing the presentation from DCC marketing. This presentation was much the same as the one heard earlier in the year with the biggest exception being that the presenter this time was DCC Marketing President Kara Demirjian Huss, and she was accompanied by Kelli Smith.

In Huss presentation she talked about what the firm would do in the line of research and creating a brand. She addressed some of the issues that had been talked about since the first vote, primarily the misunderstanding that the primary goal of the marketing firm would be to create a logo and a tagline or catchphrase that would define the city of Lincoln.

She said that the job that would be done by the firm was much more complex than just those two items. The firm, she said would study the city on the whole and work to define the city’s assets.

She said the firm would not be trying to re-invent the city’s image, but rather it would seek to identify what sets Lincoln apart from other towns, and how to utilize that and the assets that already exist to make the city more attractive to those on the outside looking in.

One detail the firm will look at closely is “How is the city perceived by the people who live and work here?” Huss said, “Perception becomes reality. If people don’t speak of the city the way you would like for them to speak, then you must take the lead in changing that.”

Huss said the goal of the firm would be to evaluate the city and identify its assets, the things that make it attractive to others. The playbook plan will identify perhaps as many as 20 assets then focus on exploiting the top three. The plan will also create a vision for the city and a set of goals that will be prioritized. It will create a brand for the city that will become the image and message of the city.

She cautioned the aldermen that once the playbook or plan is created, follow through is essential, and it requires money. She said that to make the playbook work, the city must include in its budgetary process dollars for implementation of the plan. She said for the aldermen that will be one of the biggest questions; how many dollars can be invested?

When the presentation was over, the floor was opened for discussions and questions. Todd Mourning said he felt the city was a business and had to act like a business. He said the role of the city government was to protect the business and grow the business. The city had to have a team, a goal, and that everyone needed to be on the same page. A written plan would assist aldermen in doing this.

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Steve Parrott asked DCC about its experience and reach. Huss said that the firm has served several communities, and is also an advertising agency with a large number of contacts. Parrott then asked if the firm had a “shining star” or work it had done that had made a significant impact on a community. Huss said she would have to call Decatur and Macon County the shining star. She talked about the challenges in that community and said that the image of the community had to be changed. DCC Marketing had made great strides in helping with that.

Neitzel noted that many see Decatur as a blue collar city, and Huss agreed, saying that was one of the perceptions that did have to change in order to grow that city. Neitzel then said that some perceive Lincoln as a bedroom community as well as a blue collar city.

Huss said that her firm would be doing the evaluation and will be able to determine if that is a true statement.

Neitzel then asked how. Huss said that there would be research and also two open forum meetings and a full survey of the city.

Mourning asked how the playbook and other work of DCC Marketing would fit into the work being done by Retail Strategies. Huss said the work done by DCC Marketing would complement the work being done by Retail Strategies, and would give that second firm more to work with when creating and delivering a message to retailers about the city of Lincoln.

When DCC Marketing made their first pitch in April of this year, Tracy Welch was not an alderman, but did come before the city council as a constituent and voiced his doubts and concerns about hiring the firm. At the November meeting, Welch appeared to be more receptive to the pitch. He asked Huss how important it was to have the community on board with this project, and Huss said it was very important. But she added, “It is really you, the council that needs to lead and communicate with your constituents.”

Mourning agreed saying that the aldermen needed to “be vocal, be unified, and be proponents of the plan.” He went on to say that he was excited about the prospects of a playbook and was anxious to see what it would bring to light.

Jeff Hoinacki said the aldermen needed to view growing the city as climbing a ladder. He said that developing this plan was just one rung on the ladder and that the city needed to step up, stand on that rung and then keep climbing.

Jonie Tibbs, who had voted, no, to the plan in May, appeared to be in favor of it in November. She told her fellow aldermen that through the years the city has spent money on different initiatives to try and grow and to date in her mind, nothing has really happened. But, she said they as aldermen had to continue trying, they couldn’t just give up. She concluded, “Let’s go for it again, we can’t quit trying.”

Parrott, who at the first pitch in April seemed a little hesitant, also commented that if the city was going to do this, it had to follow through. While the logo is only a very small portion of the plan, Parrot told the council that if it doesn’t utilize the recommendation in the playbook, then all they will have done is “bought a very expensive logo.”

On November 9th, Michelle Bauer was absent for the evening. Aldermen decided that they did not want to put DCC Marketing to a vote until Bauer had the chance to review what had been discussed. Therefore, it was decided that discussion of the matter would continue at the Committee of the Whole Workshop on November 24th.

At that meeting the topic was addressed, but with very little discussion taking place. Mourning did comment that he felt the city needed to “get our act together and figure out who we are.”

The item was then placed on the voting agenda for December 7th.

At the December 7th voting session, the motion was made with no further discussion, and passed with a 7 - 0 vote. When that vote was taken, Neitzel had already tendered her resignation as Ward 4 Alderman and Rick Hoefle had not yet been appointed, so the seven aldermen voting represented the complete council.

[Nila Smith]

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