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F.C. ‘Branding’ Aimed to Shift Negative Views of ‘Outsiders’

City Hall Chiefs Told Big Image Facelift Needed

The project to professionally “brand” the City of Falls Church, which is closing in on some core solutions, was presented to a room full of key City Hall personnel, led by City Manager Wyatt Shields, at the project’s “war room” in the offices of the Falls Church-based Smith-Gifford marketing agency Tuesday morning.

City Hall Chiefs Told Big Image Facelift Needed

The project to professionally “brand” the City of Falls Church, which is closing in on some core solutions, was presented to a room full of key City Hall personnel, led by City Manager Wyatt Shields, at the project’s “war room” in the offices of the Falls Church-based Smith-Gifford marketing agency Tuesday morning.

The group learned first hand something reported earlier in the News-Press based on the many interviews and focus groups conducted on the topic to date. That is, that the perception of the 2.2-square mile, 11,200 populated City is not the same among those inside, as it is among those immediately outside of it. And the view from the outside is not that positive.

The importance of the branding effort is to improve the City’s image to outsiders, Smith-Gifford’s Barbara Paris told the City Hall heavy hitters. The situation is fraught with both opportunities and necessities, she said.

One the one hand, for example, a million cars a month move through the City on Routes 29 and 7. On the other hand, for all the people in those cars see nothing about Falls Church but what they see along those corridors. And they seldom stop to find out more.

They don’t see the tree-heavy residential neighborhoods, the quality of the schools, the parks, the community activism and the other things that make Falls Church such a desirable place to be for those who live there, Paris said.

A good branding effort will help persuade the wider region to take a closer look at Falls Church, to come to dine, shop, set up a business or live. “It will put a face on the City of Falls Church so that everyone knows what it is,” she said. The goal will be to attract new business and dollars while maintaining the current residential feel.

There is definitely work to be done, she said. Whereas 77 percent of those in the City feel it is “friendly,” that characterization held true for only 37 percent of non-residents.

While outsiders acknowledge that with the new mixed-use construction projects along West Broad, in particular, “something is changing” in Falls Church, it is “getting spruced up,” and there is “eclectic architecture” (referring to the two new “art nouveau” modeled buildings by Bob Young), the view from the Rt. 7 and 29 corridors is that the place is generally “not charming,” an “eyesore” and “reminiscent of an old drive-through restaurant.”

Interestingly, among those living proximate to, but outside the City, a positive feature, Paris said, was that Falls Church “has a great newspaper.”

But there was a general sense that City residents don’t have a very clear sense of what their community really represents. They have “a pleasant sense of unreality,” came one comment during the interviews and focus groups. “They think they are one thing, but they’re not, and they don’t know it.”

The City was described by the outsiders as, among other things, “unaffordable,” “having no sense of place,” “no nightlife,” “not for young people,” “boring,” “snobby,” “insular,” “not diverse,” “stingy,” “self-centered,” “too proud,” “provincial,” “small-minded,” and “not what it is cracked up to be.”

Paris said that what outsiders want Falls Church to be like is what a lot of current City residents also want, and think that it already is. They want it to be “inclusive,” “warm and friendly,” “welcoming and inviting,” “unique,” “smart, consistent and well thought out,” “green,” “caring,” “vibrant,” and resonate “loudly and clearly one identity.”

Shields commented to his assembled troops, “We have the power to do this,” referencing the changes in perception and action that are needed.

Paris noted that the City is a prime candidate to reflect and attract the so-called “creative class,” defined as a highly-creative class of artistically, scientifically and technologically-savvy younger people, centered on the 25 to 34 year-old age group and inclusive of a high percentage of foreign-born people.

While Falls Church has an older population, with fewer foreign-born, than neighbors Arlington and Fairfax, it is in line with them in terms of the demographics of a highly educated, more creative, more mobile and tech-proficient population.

Age, diversity and housing affordability are keys to attracting the maintaining the “creative class,” Paris said.

The branding process still has a ways to go, she said. Once a logo and slogan are crafted, a big component will be to sell it to the community, itself, she said. “Everyone needs to buy in, and it can work.”

 

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