In a news story last week, City Treasurer Thad Jablonski was interviewed about a class he attended that focused on marketing East Ridge to new businesses.
During the interview Jablonski spoke of the importance of the city telling its own story to corporate decision makers convincing them that East Ridge is the right place for them to invest their money and become a part of the city’s revitalization. The city’s story, what he called its “narrative,” could play an important role in East Ridge’s future “brand.”
These public relations terms (narrative and brand) have been around for awhile but I had not given them much credence. To me they were hazy concepts that Ivy League educated people who work with big firms on Madison Avenue obsess about over three martini lunches in fancy New York eateries.
But I’ve changed my mind, and these concepts of “narrative” and “brand” are more concrete than you might think. What comes to mind when you think of McDonald’s? My money would be on “Golden Arches.” It’s an icon of the fast-food industry. It’s part of the McDonald’s “brand,” isn’t it?
Dodge trucks have a narrative, don’t they? The gravely-voiced Sam Elliott tells you about how tough Ram trucks are as video footage shows one ripping through mud or hauling a trailer full of barbed wire and steel over a mountain pass in the Rockies. “Guts and Glory.”
Cities and states really do have brands, don’t they? What’s the first thing you think of when someone mentions Nashville? Is it “Music City USA.” What about Memphis? Is it “home of the blues?” What about the great state of Tennessee … what comes to mind? Is it “Rocky Top” or the “Great Smoky Mountain?” Oh yeah, “The Volunteer State.”
I think there’s something to this narrative and branding thing.
East Ridge’s current brand is easy … It’s a Pioneer, right? “Pioneer of Progress” is on the City Seal. It’s got a certain charm. Some 19th century dude in buckskins and a coonskin cap like Davy Crockett’s. History and tradition has its place, of course. I’m old and most of my life is behind me. History and tradition are two touchstones that give me comfort as I think of the kind of life my grandchildren will have. I like the city’s icon being that of the Pioneer, the connotation being of moving forward and exploring the unknown.
If you believe our elected officials, the city is on the very edge of climbing over a ridge (get it, East Ridge) to a place we’ve never seen the like of. It’s the great unknown of economic development and all the growing pains associated with it. Believe me, it’s not easy being a Pioneer.
Now, the big question … just what is East Ridge’s narrative? There are probably almost as many stories about what East Ridge is as there are people in the city.
To some people it’s been their home for many generations. They can tell you about the long-ago East Ridge when much of it was farm land, there was no Interstate 75 and Ringgold Road was like Mayor Brent Lambert alluded to last week, a two-lane byway to another city to the south. Some others have lived here for 50 years and they can recall The Quickie restaurant and an Osborne Shopping Center that had a Loveman’s, a bakery, The East Ridge Men’s Shoppe. Remember the bowling alley where Textile Printing Co. is now?
Totten’s! John Totten _ now there’s a guy that understood “branding” before the term even had a name _ “Where we mark it up just a little bit.” I remember my mother buying bunk beds for my room from Mr. Totten’s establishment at Ringgold Road and Adonna Lane.
Many narratives would undoubtedly include the summer nights at Town Hall … four ball fields and a concession stand tucked beside McBrien School. There were tennis courts where the lawn of City Hall is now. And, of course, “Town Hall Ball.” The outdoor basketball court where Pioneer Frontier playground is now, where some playground legends held court (literally) for 30 years.
And then there are the great characters who shaped the city … some legitimate, others not so much. Even though most of them are dead, I’m not going to name the people who could get you a pint of liquor and some action on anything from SEC football games to BINGO.
So, what’s it going to be? What is the “narrative,” the story of East Ridge?
I want you to go to the end of this column where you can comment; leave a couple, three or four sentences about East Ridge and give your impressions of what the city is all about. East Ridge News Online will make sure that city officials see the comments. It may influence the kind of “narrative” city officials put forward for the world to see.