Building A Brand

Faced with increasing competition from the private sector, a changing population and a lack of a strong public identity, the Arlington Parks and Recreation Department in Texas decided to take on a branding initiative in 2007.

At the time, the department was focused on services rather than image. Staff members often stated that, if the department was doing a better job with its communications program, everyone would know the depth and breadth of its programs and services. When it comes to mass communications, however, this logic is false. Studies show that, if you tell people one thing you want them to remember, 85 percent will remember. If you tell them two things, the percentage drops to 25. And, if you tell them three things, only 5 percent will remember. Therefore, it is best to convey only one message in a mass-communications program.

To define the department’s single message, the marketing department was charged with creating a process to define the brand. And, because no one knows the business of the department like its own employees, it was done internally.

Working Up A Brand

A one-day workshop asked participants to define the brand based on what was being said about the organization by the public, as well as by those working within the organization. Participants were to answer the question as if talking about a person: “Who are parks and recreation, and what are they all about?” The answer was not to re-invent, change, or modify the mission statement, but to wrap it in a new package, singling out the characteristics that draw people to the organization.

The workshop worked liked a jury deliberation. Staff members were told that at the end of the process, they must be in 100-percent agreement with the conclusions; there could be no decision that ended in a 10-to-2, or 7-to-2 vote. The points the group couldn’t completely agree on were eliminated from consideration.

The decisions revealed conclusions in four areas:

· Personality

· Positioning

· Affiliation

· Brand vision.


Because it is difficult for people to relate to companies, organizations and governmental institutions as anything but large, monolithic entities, workshop participants needed to describe the department in terms of human personality traits. Those are the sum of the personalities of all divisions within the department. These characteristics serve as a gauge for everything the organization does, from refusing to hire those who do not match the traits of the department to dealing with clients. Employees need to always make sure their actions align with these characteristics. The traits should affect the way customers are greeted, programs are decided, and phones are answered.

It’s important to note that these personality traits were not new. They have always been core values of the department. What changed was the emphasis on focus and consistency--actions of employees and the department have to match up to the personality traits.

Arlington’s personality: Passionate, fun, creative


The next step defined the department’s positioning. This was to be stated in a simple sentence composed of three parts:

· Target audience--the largest group that has an influence on the brand

· Competitive set--the department’s competition for the public’s attention and loyalty

· Most compelling benefit—reasons for the public to pay attention.

Arlington’s positioning statement: —“For the … community seeking quality facilities and recreational opportunities, the Arlington Parks and Recreation Department offers value and convenience in your own backyard.”


In the third step, participants determine the department’s affiliation, or the “club” people join when involved with parks and recreation. It distinguishes customers from people who affiliate with other businesses or organizations competing in the same market. Knowing who affiliates with a parks and recreation department opens the door for the relationship to proceed to the next level. For instance, a message targeting this group can be moved from a simple mass-communication message to a more detailed one about the different programs and services offered.

Arlington’s affiliation: Community members who find value and fulfillment in leading a healthy, active lifestyle

Brand Vision

The brand vision is the promise the department makes to its customers. This promise must be consistently delivered at every point of contact. It serves as the rallying cry for the department. This concise phrase should convey the most compelling benefit, and be one that employees can deliver over an extended period of time.

Arlington’s brand vision (promise): “Naturally Fun”

Keep The Momentum Going

The process cannot end with the workshop, however. The brand must be thought of as a living, breathing entity to be cared for and nourished in order to thrive. Following the workshop, a graphic image was developed to convey the brand. Then brand rollouts were held with employees to educate them on the brand’s elements. A Brand Alive committee was formed to oversee the vitality of the brand. Quarterly brand orientations are now held for new employees. The brand personality traits are woven into the employee-recognition program, including annual awards based on the personality traits.

In Arlington, the branding program is not simply about communications; it is about a lifestyle--living and breathing the brand.

Kelly Drawdy is the Marketing Manager for Arlington Parks and Recreation. She has been with the department for two years and holds a master’s degree in communications. She can be reached via e-mail at