In August 2018, Brownstein Group was selected to execute research and narrative development for the Philadelphia Global Identity Project, a multi-phased effort undertaken with the ultimate goal of defining what it means to live and work in Philadelphia. The Global Identity Project is being convened by the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Commerce in partnership with numerous organizations working together to develop a new brand identity for the region.

“The process of developing a cohesive brand that truly represents every aspect of Philadelphia will be a challenging one, and we knew that we needed to base our next steps on reliable, insightful research,” said Harold T. Epps, Commerce Director for the City of Philadelphia. “After reviewing a number of proposals, the City and our partners determined that Brownstein Group was the best team for the job.”

And that job began right away, spearheaded by the BG Brand Strategy Team, which is led by Anne Ryan. We sat down with her to see how things were going so far.

 

ANNE, THANKS FOR TAKING THE TIME.

It’s truly an honor to be speaking with you, Sean. You’re a brilliant man.

(NOTE: This transcription may have been edited by the interviewer.)

 

YOU’RE TOO KIND. SO, WHAT’S THE PROCESS BEEN SO FAR WITH THIS PROJECT? HAVE THERE BEEN ANY UNEXPECTED SURPRISES?

What’s been surprising is just how open and excited people in all levels across the city have been to speak with us – from Mayor Kenney to David Cohen – incredibly busy people who are running big organizations. There is so much passion there. They truly believe this is the best city in the world. People are eager, even desperate for us to tell this story. After all, the more this new narrative develops, the easier it is for them to do their jobs.

 

WHEN YOU SAY “NEW” NARRATIVE, I IMAGINE YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT DISPELLING OR SHIFTING PAST STEREOTYPES. PHILADELPHIA IS A CITY WITH A LOT OF STEREOTYPES – CAN YOU TALK A BIT ABOUT HOW YOU PLAN TO OVERCOME THEM?

Our sports fans, LOVE Park, cheesesteaks and Rocky – these are icons, and we can’t ignore them. We have to hug them harder. A lot of cities don’t have the benefits associated with this imagery, so it’d be foolish to try and totally distance ourselves from those things. Our history can be owned, but we need to reposition and contextualize its meaning. It’s not about Rocky; he represents our city’s perseverance. And it’s not about cheesesteaks; it’s about how our city embraces ingenuity, even in sandwiches. People want to know about how that stuff influences today. So it’s become this concept of how history propels us into the future. Remember, this is a city that launched a start-up nation.

 

YOU’RE OUT THERE TALKING TO A LOT OF DIFFERENT PEOPLE. WHAT TYPES OF PERSONALITY SKILLS ARE NECESSARY FOR THIS WORK?

Communications ability, the ability to do intercepts on the street, ethnographic research through observations – it requires a certain temperament for how to approach people. While this is primarily run through Brand Strategy, it’s truly a team effort here at the agency. The PR Team has been terrific with helping on intercepts and interviews, the Creative Team put together a community engagement page to give the project a visual identity, the Digital Team helped program our survey to give it a presence online. HR is involved with Diversity & Inclusion – heck, even Marc Brownstein is intimately involved, so that’s when you know it’s all hands on deck! (Laughs) He won’t read this, will he?

 

WHAT LANDMINES ARE OUT THERE FOR AGENCIES OR OTHER CITIES UNDERTAKING THIS TYPE OF PROJECT?

Logistics – this project has required a small army! We always strive to make every person we interview feel special, and that they’ve been adequately seen and heard. But when you interview more than 300 people in three months, that becomes a real challenge. We have to comb through and synthesize all that data. So we’re finding that this has taken over our lives – in the most awesome way! We’re all so energized by the mission that it’s bleeding over into every interaction we have.

And for those interactions, it’s somewhat easy to get to top executives, but how do you get to the underserved parts of the population? How can you ensure that the research is truly representative? You can pay to access focus groups and survey takers, but they aren’t the real people that we want to talk to. You need to have the integrity to look at all points of view, not just the easiest to access.

A lack of diversity within an agency could be a roadblock – meaning, if you aren’t representative as an agency, you don’t have that insight. Our city’s diversity is such a strength and at BG we’ve committed to executing a research design that is inclusive of all perspectives and experiences, even when it requires unconventional or non-traditional research methods. Philadelphia is a majority minority city – how can you represent that? We are constantly challenging ourselves if we’re doing enough to service that fact.

 

SO…SPILL IT. WHAT’S THE SECRET? HAVE YOU GUYS DEVELOPED A TAGLINE OR ANYTHING YET?

Nope. This isn’t about that, or a billboard or a commercial. This is about Philadelphia’s narrative and one that represents the whole city.  Hopefully it will be a campaign, but we can’t get ahead of ourselves – we need to see where the research takes us.

 

ANNE, THANKS SO MUCH AND BEST OF LUCK.

Thank YOU! You’ve gotten more handsome since we last spoke. It’s been a pleasure.

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Once developed, the new Philadelphia brand identity will be deployed around the globe in hopes of attracting and retaining talent, business, tourism, capital, students and investment in the region at large. To stay informed on all project developments, please visit www.brownsteingroup.com and follow all agency news on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.