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The Tagline, the Logo, Our Process

Rockville councilman defends his vote for the city's branding.

Rather than address each comment individually (and at the risk of inciting a new round of criticism), I submit this in response to comments by Rockville Central, the Communications Task Force and others who have expressed concern and dismay with t and the process for that selection.

I fully understand and appreciate the comments and concerns as to whether the tagline and logo may or may not be representative, creative, inclusive, resonant, poignant (insert your adjective here). Such characteristics are hugely subjective with varying levels and intensity of acceptance or rejection. In fact, dare I suggest, the tagline and logo, as happens often in similar situations, may actually over time become an acquired taste.

I appreciate too the expressions of consternation over the decision process and I am sorry there is a feeling that public opinion was summarily dismissed. It was not. I respectfully disagree with the characterization that in this process, public opinion was totally disregarded and the decision capriciously made. Specific to this characterization, I set out below my understanding of and involvement in the process that led to my favoring the selected tagline and logo.

At the outset, let me make clear that I speak only for myself. The other council members who voted for the tagline and logo—Piotr Gajewski and Mark Pierzchala—surely have their own bases for their processes and votes. Having said that, it is my observation that both have been deliberate and thoughtful in their analyses of all issues throughout this term (regardless of outcomes that may differ from my own), so I may safely hazard a guess that they did not act in blatant disregard of public opinion in this instance.

Keep in mind, this has been an ongoing process for more than a year; it is not just the citizen input survey that underlies its analysis. The previous Mayor and Council initiated the request for proposal and selected the consultant who would ultimately submit the three tagline and logo options. It was early in this session that the current Mayor and Council, by a vote of 4 to 1, authorized the contract to proceed, i.e., the expenditure of $75,000 for the development of tagline and logo options. By the time these options were presented, the consultant’s work was nearly done and importantly the funds were already expended. 

The process publicly set last year was for the collection of demographic information and other data including interviews with select representatives of different stakeholder groups, the analysis of such data, a mechanism for random public input on tagline and logo options and the presentation of all of this information to the Mayor and Council for final selection. I do not dispute the benefits of an enhanced process that would have taken us into prolonged post analysis of the submitted options, including multiple focus groups, and likely the unending consideration of a myriad of additional options. We were constrained, however, by a limited project budget that was itself the subject of intense criticism. 

At no time throughout the process was there discussion of expanding the budget to include controlled, more representative surveys or focus groups. In fact, the opposition to the expenditure of any additional funds on this process was vehement and any discussion by the Mayor and Council of such additional funds was stillborn. Despite this, the rationality of the process we did engage in is not necessarily diminished nor is the decision making and its result any less reasonable. 

Based on my conversations with others, particularly in our public and business sectors, and my observations and research with respect to branding in other locales, I see a tremendous benefit to a branding infrastructure. I was sufficiently satisfied with the collection and analysis of data by the consultants and their identification of the lack of consensus among us (read broadly) of what kind of place Rockville should mean to all of us. I accepted the consultants’ options and felt the time was organically right to make a decision.

Let me explain then the how of my preferred choice. As a member of the previous Mayor and Council, I was privy to the extensive presentations by the RFP respondents on the benefits of branding, experiences with different municipalities and the approach each would take for branding in Rockville. I also reviewed the reports submitted by the consultant, discussed the results of the consultant’s research and analysis with others throughout the city and in different capacities in the city, participated in the presentations by the consultant before the Mayor and Council and conducted my own background research into the initiation and efficacy of branding processes and campaigns. This is all part of information gathering and analysis that I undertake for any issue before the Mayor and Council.

Another component of information gathering for this was my review of the survey, in particular the comments submitted with many of the votes. I never understood our citizen input survey to have a mandated result. Rather, I used the survey and the comments therein to inform my decision but not be determinative of it. If we intended the latter, then we would have announced that the winner of the survey would be the absolute determining factor for selection of the tagline and logo, regardless of any other factor, and we would not have needed any further discussion of the survey. We made no such announcement. Nor could we. Nor do we operate in such manner in any other forum or for any other topic. As in other processes, I put the survey information in an analytical context and based my decision on a multiplicity of factors, including the survey and its comments.

Rightly or wrongly, the survey was a random sampling, hardly the appropriate mechanism on which to solely rely in making a decision. With this random survey, there is no geographic, racial, ethnic, age, gender, education or income break-down. I do not submit that all of these categories must be known in a survey, but it is impossible to know how representative of your population your respondents are if at least some of these categories are not present. The Rockville Central opinion titled “I Feel Branded” stated that the “will of the people” should not necessarily be followed, but focused its criticism of the process for not doing just that—blithely making a decision based solely on a random numbers game.  With this as a mantra, Rockville Central and others made the audacious assumption, without ever attempting to validate such assumption, that, in this process, the will of the power was “summarily” rejected by those of us who voted for the selected tagline and logo.  So sure of the arbitrary dismissal of the “will of the people,” not one person contacted me or even undertook the slightest of inquiry to determine if there might be a countervailing rationale on my part.

Even apart from the randomness of the survey, the simply stated tally warrants stricter scrutiny and statistical parsing. The tagline and logos were rated 1,2 and 3 in a dancing-with-the-stars-like vote tally. But the reality of the preferences is murkier. For example, a number of the none of the above vote actually intended to reject the process altogether either because branding itself was an unacceptable activity or the expenditure of funds on this activity was wasteful.

There were a number of “hybrid” selections, i.e., one of the taglines mixed with another of the logos or modifications to the submitted option. For example, approximately 15 comments selected either tagline No. 1 or tagline No. 2 (thus, the “winner” for that vote), but with attachment to logo No. 3. I am not suggesting that further scrutiny in this way necessarily changes the finish line position of the options. But categorizing the votes in non-permeable categories was a disservice to the overall sentiment. Put differently, it was not as clear cut as the vote tally suggests. 

I also carefully reviewed the survey comments which I found more telling of sentiment. (I wonder how many of those who bemoan my vote as egregious actually read, as I did, the comments in the survey as well as all of the demographic and stakeholder interview reports and other pertinent and relevant materials.) Some of the comments rejected option number 3 because the tagline did not resonate with some easily identifiable component of Rockville. As one comment suggested, it is no good if it has to be explained. I considered this seriously, but in light of the varying concepts in all of the materials, including the survey, about what is the primary component of Rockville, I personally thought a more interpretative tagline would be appropriate. It has a breadth of interpretation and an elasticity in its application or, following other survey comments, it is both an invitation and a recommendation to find out more about Rockville.

The characteristics of my process and vote are as varied as our citizens’ concepts of Rockville. Are you colorblind? (No, I am not.) Any child could come up with a better tagline. (I am struck by the inordinate number of 5- and 7-year-olds in Rockville who are purported to be proficient in marketing and graphic arts.) Midlife crisis? (Maybe, but I think I addressed that with my recent skydiving.) Result of beer drinking frat boys? (No quip here—this unfortunate comment does a disservice to intelligent, substantive public dialogue.) Also, the charge that we are the laughing stock of the entire region is hyperbolic.

To prove the point of ubiquitous ridicule, Rockville Central refers us to the “dcist” blog. But, even a cursory review of the blog comments reveals that it’s not really this process that is being ridiculed; rather, it’s outdated stereotypes of Rockville being parodied, with an unflattering picture of Rockville Pike signage and faux taglines such as “The World Class City That Nobody Cares About”; “Rockville: It Probably Isn’t Getting Any Better Than This”; “Rockville: We [heart] Strip Malls” “Rockville-Because I Didn’t Know Any Better”; “Rockville: Home of Hank Dietle’s Tavern!” (which it technically was not); “Rockville: On The Way To Somewhere Nice”; and on and on. And by the way, the blog author states that the selected tagline is the least ridiculous of the three options. (Well, not the endorsement one typically solicits but an endorsement nonetheless!) If you really want to read some ridicule of Rockville process and policy, try some of the local and national transportation blogs on our recent CCT decision.

For those still awake at this point, I do not pretend that any of this will convert you to disciples of “Get Into It." You may still consider the tagline and logo “astonishingly unimaginative.” Just know that I based my decision on an analysis of all the data and information presented, including the survey and its comments, my own research and observations of branding campaigns and my own emotive response, the latter obviously to the chagrin of the opponents of the tagline and logo. Anyone has the right to criticize my analytical process on a substantive basis and my artistic pretensions on even a WTF basis. I believe, however, the sweeping generalization of my summary disregard of the public will is misplaced and unwarranted.

The roll-out of the tagline and logo is not immediate but gradual, an approach determined wholly by fiscal considerations. Only time will tell if this works to the city’s advantage or is inherently destructive of the branding attempt. A small irony of this public dialogue is that a number of people are using the tagline, albeit not necessarily in the preferred way, either in the context of this process issue or related to another concern or issue. What’s the usage count before we can say it is now in common parlance?! In the meantime, I encourage you to “get into it” with respect to any aspect of the good life in Rockville!        

 The author is a Rockville city councilman.

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