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In Marketing Hartford, Finding Fun Is Tricky

By Laurence D. Cohen

August 08, 2011

When the Hartford Business Journal wanted to enhance revenue a bit, a decision was made to ramp up the brand marketing and begin charging for tours of the newsroom.

Experiencing the cigar smoke and the rants of the crazy editor have been appealing to many visitors, but what really made the difference was the new slogan: “Home to Cohen the Columnist.” Women lined up around the block to get a close look — and intellectuals stopped by to watch a God Among Business Opinion Leaders at work.

That’s what travel-and-tourism marketing is all about: Emphasize your best attribute — and hint that there’s lots more where that came from.

Hartford has been befuddled for decades about that very point. What is the compelling allure, beyond Cohen strolling the downtown streets at lunchtime, that will bring in busloads of tourists — or, perhaps, affluent suburbanites whose checks don’t bounce?

To be labeled the “Insurance Capital of the World” implies a certain number of office towers and enough guys in suits so that you won’t be mistaken for a factory town. But hot girls don’t dig actuaries. Besides, you’re competing with Central City, Neb., the “Pump Irrigation Capital of the World.”

Hartford chugs along with the accoutrements of a real city: a fancy art museum and theater companies and a symphony orchestra and a concert hall and a convention center and the like — and enough wealth among the underwriters and newspaper publishers to keep everything afloat.

What’s missing is that, “Wow! Hartford! Let’s Go Have Some Fun” kind of feeling. There is little travel-and-tourism machinery to give the place either a fun-palace feeling or to crank up the occasional weekend festival to 52 weeks of good times. The South End’s Italian Festival? It’s gone. The outdoor Taste of Hartford? It’s gone. The Twain Days festival at Bushnell Park? It’s gone. The Fiddle Festival at Bushnell Park? Too much fun. Driven out of town by clumsy city bureaucrats.

Yes, yes, the outdoor jazz festival is pretty good, but it gets little of the marketing magic of such stuff as the Litchfield jazz festival.

For years, Hartford was suffering from its image as a struggling city, in a socio-economic, too-many-welfare-mothers, watch-out-for-crime kind of way. The marketing slogan in those days was “New England’s Rising Star,” with just a hint that the star had not yet risen.

It’s 2011 — time for a new marketing message, a new slogan, promise that once you’re tired of Las Vegas, you can come to Hartford and have a great time, except on Saturday and Sunday mornings, when nothing in downtown Hartford is open.

The gang of civic and business groups has once again come together in a messy, sluggish, gridlocked kind of way to lead Hartford to travel-and-tourism riches — focusing on downtown and on big-event home runs as a first step to trick people into coming to town, so that we can flatten all their tires and they have to stay all day and drink beer.

The consulting firm has been hired, the slogans are being trotted out for review, with the promise of a marketing colossus to communicate all the good times you can have if you stop mowing your damn suburban lawn and come see the bright lights of the big city.

If it all doesn’t work? With 15 surly cops on patrol, a few zoning enforcement and building code inspection tweaks; and an infusion of expense-account drinkers, the Hispanic-flavored Park Street district would be a lot more fun than downtown. Just a thought.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Business Journal. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Business Journal Archives at http://www.hartfordbusiness.com/archives.php.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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