On Tuesday, the Antioch City Council agreed to hire Evviva Brands, LLC for marketing and branding services in the amount of $95,000.
Evviva Brands, LLC was one of six firms to submit an Request for Qualifications (RFQ) and was ultimately recommended by city staff–page 149 of the council agenda. The council agreed in a 3-1 vote with Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe dissenting.
Evviva will seek to establish a media plan to communicate a positive impression of Antioch to target audiences, specifically focused on the community, business environment, and development/leasing opportunities. They will be tasked with identifying audiences, publicize Antioch and support the economic development strategies and needs while raising their identity among real estate, development, and corporate decision makers to recruit companies to Antioch.
Councilman Tony Tiscareno highlighted how Antioch was divided into different areas and have been struggling for years on how to define who they were. He asked David Kippen, Managing Director at Evviva, who he thought Antioch was.
“Today, I don’t think there is a single answer to your question,” explained Kippen. “There is an opportunity to build consensus on who Antioch wants to become and I think that is what this project is part of… I do know that a brand is ultimately a consensus, I do know we can’t market 7 or 9 or 11 Antioch’s, there has to be one Antioch and I know as an outsider what that Antioch is. Our job is to listen very carefully and hold up a mirror to the people listening to you and to help them describe to us what they see.”
He added it would be presumptuous for him to define Antioch, instead, they will help the community draw it up based on the conversations they have.
Thorpe questioned Lizeht Zepeda, Economic Development Program Manager, on the qualifications process of an Request for Proposal versus a Request for Qualifications and what themes carried the firms to being a finalist.
Thorpe also questioned the use of “earned media” and how when people search Antioch the message was not very good. He showcased his major concern how “earned media” was not a concern to Evviva in their proposal.
Kippen explained that they were a media branding agency.
“As we look at Antioch, we see two things missing. There is not a good integrated traffic driving strategy between your paid, owned, and earned media. We see you doing a lot of work and getting a lot of traction in some areas, like police, but we don’t see a whole lot of uptake,” explained Kippen. “Since we have started this process, we’ve had a Google Alert that goes out everyday when the city of Antioch is mentioned in the news and we see a very light foot print if anything other than the wrong kind of earned, the bad crime stats, somebody living in the top of the train station rather than the type of media you would want to learn. Our process needs to start with what we are about.”
Thorpe further questioned Kippen on earned media. Kippen replied they are a Brand Marketing firm and not public relations.
Mayor Sean Wright stated one of the concerns he had was when they asked for this type of proposal, he was seeking more of a public relations firm, but noted everything that Kippen was saying was what they needed as a city.
“We need a brand, we need a common story, we need to align,” said Wright. “How do you help us as things arise in our community that our PR message doesn’t damage what you are putting in from the branding standpoint?”
Kippen replied that public relations is always responsive, what they are trying to do was shape the narrative and the story going forward—we will be a partner in strategy in trying to get ahead of items.
During public comments, Tim McCall urged the council to hold off on a decision.
“I’d like to ask you guys to wait, I don’t know where we are at on the economic development director, but I think its important to have the game plan put together by him. We need it certainly more than what I saw offered tonight. It’s a first step but I’ve heard you guys report we do need more,” said McCall.
McCall also questioned a portion of the proposal where Evviva proposed in a game plan that Antioch could become “Gourmet Ghetto of cannabis cuisine”.
“I’d like to see if we can get that pulled down pretty quickly,” stated McCall. “That is very poor marketing and made me question who I was coming here to see tonight that it would be in the report at all.”
Arne Simonsen, speaking as a resident and not city clerk, echoed comments made by McCall on page 13 of the proposal stating Antioch could be a “gourmet ghetto of cannabis cuisine”.
“It really bothered me, that is the last thing we need in the report,” stated Simonsen. “My neighbors have been calling me and getting text messages. This is not the message. If this is something coming from this organization, I think that’s aiming in the wrong direction. I am just very unhappy that would show up as a thought that we would want that as our moniker for the city of Antioch.”
Thorpe went back to “earned media”.
“It doesn’t matter that we create videos, it doesn’t matter that we create pamphlets for our economic development director to go out and try and market the city. Its no different when a company goes and looks at the school ratings and says well no, this is not where I want to come. If we don’t fix that perception by third party validations, all of this is meaningless,” explained Thorpe. “What we put out doesn’t matter as much as what other people say about us.”
Thorpe stated he was not comfortable with Evviva because he was looking for more experienced firms who had worked with cities.
Kippen disagreed with Thorpe’s focus on earned media because he didn’t believe it was an “either or” option.
“Absent the direction the city was going in, absent a clear story the city was becoming or want to be, in my professional opinion, you are going to be firefighting. You are going to be playing rear guard action, you are not shaping the direction, you are not shaping the message or the story,” explained Kippen. “One of the reasons why agencies like ours gets paid to do the work we do is because being responsive to what people say about us is less effective than shaping what they say about us by purposely directing attention in focused ways.”
Thorpe said he agreed with Kippen on what he just said, but noted there were firms out there that develop the branding, the marketing, and develop the public/media relations to combat a crisis adding that he thought this proposal was not the framework the city set out as to why they wanted to do this.
Tiscareno explained that for the city to market and be prepared from a public relations standpoint they should first have a set standard brand of the city.
“I was hoping everything would be incorporated into one but I think that’s a major cost factor,” stated Tiscareno. “So we are looking at a company that specified and an expert in one area which is branding and that is very important to a city to put a positive branding message to the public for when we have to market and do public relations.”
Tisacreno said they have to do something to get them ready for marketing and if this was recommended by staff he was willing to entertain the recommendation.
Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock made the motion to move forward with Evviva.
Prior to the vote, Mayor Wright wanted to address the “elephant in the room” that was not being talked about was that Lamar Thorpe believes that he has a firm was not interviewed in the final four that could do all of this.
“Am I wrong, is that the unspoken thing here?” asked Wright.
Thorpe explained that he still had concerns and that from his perspective it was not the framework they had originally set.
“When Volkswagen fudged the MPG on their cars, it didn’t matter what they said about themselves. It mattered what third-party validators said. When PG&E and their pipeline blew up, it didn’t matter what PG&E said about themselves. What mattered was the fines that came after the fact and what the news reports reported about them,” explained Thorpe. “That is the challenge that I think we have as a city, it doesn’t matter that we brand ourselves.”
He added that for the branding part, there are already some cookie cutter things that people do in marketing and communications that are put in place and it doesn’t have to cost this much.
“Yes, I have concerns because there is one finalist who I believe should not have been in that pool, and yes I have concerns that we are going into the wrong direction as it relates to what type of firm we should be attracting. We did set a framework which we had an individual come and present and that framework did not pan out,” explained Thorpe. “I had requested the money to do this. I had asked the council to take a leap of faith with me and this is the direction we should take and so it baffles me that we are at this place where this is not the area I thought we were going into.”
The mayor then called for a vote where Evviva Brands was hired in a 3-1 vote with Thorpe dissenting.