City council heard loud and clear Tuesday many residents do not accept the idea of branding Williams Lake with the slogan “Welcome to the Republic of Life.”
Around 100 residents, including four former mayors and a councillor, filled city hall for council’s regular meeting to drive home the point.
Two weeks ago during a committee of the whole meeting Taiji Brand Group unveiled the branding package to city council and staff.
Once images that accompanied the marketing package, including a logo and the slogan were made public, people started contacting mayor and council, launching opinions on Facebook sites, writing letters to the editor and doing radio interviews to let people know they were unhappy.
Resident Ken Wilson in a radio interview said perhaps “Willy’s puddle” was a better slogan option.
Wilson also addressed council Tuesday, saying many people in the community are upset about the branding project.
“Many people are upset at city council for not involving the taxpayers,” he said. “Taxpayers are saying the cost ($41,000) was too high and that there are people in Williams Lake that could have come up with something more palatable.”
He alleged the Williams Lake and District Chamber of Commerce wasn’t consulted, however, Mayor Kerry Cook clarified that chamber president Jason Ryll was part of the working group throughout the branding project.
Wilson quoted a former mayor saying the logo, meant to resemble a belt buckle, looked like a shield.
He asked for a show of hands from the chamber and around 90 indicated they were opposed to the brand. Eight, all under the age of 40, indicated they liked it.
Prior to Wilson’s delegation, Carol Taiji of Taiji Group made a public presentation.
At the onset, Taiji said coming up with a brand is never a perfect process.
“A lot of effort was made to create the level of engagement that was appropriate,” she said.
A truism of branding is trying to reach a target audience.
One of the discussions they had with Alan Madrigga (the city’s manager of economic development) was around community resilience and the desire to attract people who want to move to Williams Lake by choice.
“We had a very specific target in mind. We’ve worked with many small communities and mid-sized communities and everybody is trying to retain and attract a young workforce,” Taiji said.
To build a brand that speaks to that target audience requires a certain language and approach and it isn’t necessarily the same language used by people in the community.
“Our group attached ourselves to the Republic of Life because during the entire process the group said we did not want to have a generic brand. It felt like a poor investment for the city.”
They were prepared to choose something that felt provocative.
The group defined “republic” as a body of people freely engaged in the pursuit of a common passion. “No political overtones, nothing to do with people south of the border, it was just the notion of people determining their own future as individuals.”
It was also meant to be a fun play on words to get people’s attention.
At the same time it needs to work for everyone and that is the challenge, Taiji agreed.
Mayor Cook told the crowd the item has received the most response.
“It’s definitely brought a lot of strong feelings and huge response from people. I think there’s a lot of good to that because it shows how passionate people are about Williams Lake,” she said.
A recommendation from the committee of the whole meeting suggested council adopt the branding package, but in light of the amount of feedback and the community saying it was not adequately consulted, Cook recommended following a public communication process, a report be brought back to council for further consideration.
The motion was passed by council. Coun. Surinderpal Rathor was opposed.
Looking around the room, Coun. Laurie Walters encouraged everyone sitting in the chambers to participate.
“In some areas it’s not easy to get public engagement so I see this as an opportunity for people to get involved,” Walters said. “There were other ideas that can be revisited, but there might be people here today that have other ideas.”
Coun. Danica Hughes said the word “cowboy” bothers her because it labels people, and that she preferred the word “ranching heritage.” “We have about 20-plus ranches that spend money in Williams Lake. When I think about the republic of life I don’t know what it means.”
She also said she has an issue with the definition of republic provided by Taiji Group, and suggested: “Williams Lake is a body of people freely engaged in the pursuit of diverse passion.”
The concept is not comprehensive yet, she said, adding she was not willing to support it until there’s more in front of council.
Coun. Geoff Bourdon likened the controversy to the delivery of the HST.
“I will be looking into the way we deliver in communication from here moving on. I participated in the process from the very start and it’s a good process,” Bourdon said.
He cautioned: “It’s no benefit to us to have nothing. Let’s not defeat the entire thing, and let’s not forget the target audience. It’s a certain demographic that we’re trying to attract.”
Coun. Ivan Bonnell acknowledged the community’s input and reminded the process started in 2011 with the business and attraction survey.
Branding was one of 45 recommendations that came out of the study.
“Everybody doesn’t support the brand itself, but I do think everybody supports the concept of having some sort of marketing or advertising campaign to achieve the objective of business expansion and attraction to our community,” Bonnell said.
“How we define who we are is very difficult as can be displayed here, not only for the last two weeks of this discussion, but for those who have lived here a life time.”
He also encouraged the public to participate in the process so the city can come up with a package to market “who we are and what we have to offer.”
Coun. Sue Zacharias said she loves the branding package, describing it as funny, but said she’s also stuck on the word “republic.”
“I want to see the project go forward and if we can now have more public input it would be great. I think we can come up with something that’s fantastic that will set Williams Lake apart. There’s so much we have to offer.”
She suggested 80 per cent of the branding package is “good.”
The city needs to work on the other 20 per cent.
Coun. Surinderpal Rathor voted against moving forward with the branding project and said he opposed the fact the city has paid $41,000 to Taiji Group for leading the project.
“I want the community to know I voted against it from day one,” Rathor said, adding he doesn’t want the city spending anymore on branding.
In the June 12 edition, the Tribune noted the city approved spending up to $45,000 to hire Taiji Brand Group to complete a place brand project for the city.
Tuesday city staff confirmed the motion was passed unanimously, although Coun. Geoff Bourdon was absent from the June 5 meeting.
In his report to council on June 5, Madrigga also noted a select tender (request for proposal) process was completed with four companies that specialize in community or place branding work.