In its first meeting of the new year, the Guilford County Economic Development Alliance (GCEDA) approved up to $41,500 to hire Greensboro marketing firm Bouvier Kelly to create a positive new brand, image and logo for the county to use to market itself at trade shows, in promotional materials, on the web and in other ways.

The GCEDA Leadership Board is composed of elected officials, staff and economic development officials representing Greensboro, High Point and Guilford County. The board met on Thursday, Jan. 26 at the Cameron Campus of Guilford Technical Community College and voted unanimously to hire Bouvier Kelly to create the county’s new brand. The theme is expected to emphasize the unity of those three local governments for bringing in economic development.

Bouvier Kelly was one of six marketing groups that applied to take on the project after GCEDA sent out a request for proposals. The firm was chosen to make its presentation at the Jan. 26 meeting. Greensboro Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Brent Christensen, who oversaw the selection process, said that firm had risen to the top.

Christensen said the firm projected a cost of $32,000 to $41,500 depending on the hours needed.

“We had budgeted $50,000 and have money to do the printing, the brochures and put up the website,” he said. “They are in our budget; they’ve done work in and outside of North Carolina and have worked with some of our neighboring counties as well.”

No one knows yet what the well-known firm will come up with, but it won’t be the first time this area has tried to create a brand that will convey a positive and memorable impression. Greensboro has called itself “Tournament Town” in recent years, for instance; however, since it lost the men’s ACC Tournament to the expanded ACC and lost the NCAA regionals to House Bill 2, that name may no longer be fitting. High Point has pushed the furniture manufacturing theme for decades in various forms but that doesn’t connect up well to Greensboro. Regionalists have pushed the area as the Piedmont Triad – Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem together – but Greensboro and High Point have little to do with Winston-Salem, making for strange bedfellows in that awkward and forced union. If that theme were applied to the new emphasis on the Greensboro and High Point collaboration, it would be the Piedmont Duo.

Greensboro has also been labeled as the Gate City, which sounds as though it’s a place one should pass through on the way to somewhere desirable, and in the past it has also been labeled the City of Roses, but there doesn’t seem to be a predominance of roses in the area these days.

Now it’s Bouvier Kelly’s job to find the next big brand.

April Hamilton, an account manager with the firm, said at the meeting that the company had deep connections to the area.

“The founder, Lou Bouvier, moved the agency to downtown Greensboro because he saw exciting things happening at the time and he wanted to be a part of it,” she said. “We really like staying local.”

Mark Wingerter, the firm’s copywriter for the creative team, said the process of creating a new brand is collaborative and fun. He said the team would put up ideas and phrases and images on a giant poster board and look for common strands that hold the key for a focused, memorable, simple theme that would be reflected in the new logo and marketing materials.

“It’s a fun process, but it’s messy,” Wingerter said.

He told the board that the end result should be something that “really feels like your identity.”

“We like to really go one on one with who we’re working with and get the voice of the project and the brand and the message out of the people,” Wingerter said. “We like to find out where the message is, where the roots are.”

Bouvier Kelly has created branding and logos for Burlington, the Dan River State Crossings – an eight county area on the North Carolina/Virginia border – and other nearby communities. Hamilton and Wingerter said GCEDA board members could participate as much or as little in the process as they wanted and that they were free to sit in on the brainstorming meetings.

“We really want to be on the same page and make sure this is something that you guys can believe in,” Wingerter said, “something you’re proud to stamp above buildings and put on your letterhead and something that feels like your identity.”

The project is expected to be complete by April.

Hamilton said Bouvier Kelly plans to play up the unity aspect of this area since that is the clear direction of the group.

“You’re pooling your resources; you’re pooling your talent; you’re pooling your data,” Hamilton said.

She showed examples of the firm’s work with downtown Burlington, which ended up adopting a very colorful logo and brand.

LabCorp, which had a large presence in Burlington, had moved out, she explained, leaving a lot of empty office spaces. The city was seeking new tenants and wanted a “brand identity” to encourage that. In that case, the marketing idea played on the fact that the word “in” was at the center of the word “Burlington,” which led to a “get in” theme.

“It was get in to economic development, get in to fun, get in to culture, get in to music,” she said. “It’s a really fun little community there.   They really embraced it. They had a brand launch event, and the Paramount Theater was full and they got a standing ovation when they launched this brand.”

Hamilton said the Dan River State Crossings project was a unique endeavor because the company was working with two states, Virginia and North Carolina, two cities, Danville and Martinsville, and eight counties including Stokes, Rockingham, Caswell and Person counties.

“They make up the Dan River basin and, after the coal ash spill, there was a lot of negative publicity,” she said.

They said the goal was to create a clear image that will “really put a name on a map.”

Greensboro City Manager Jim Westmoreland said Bouvier Kelly should also seek the input of local business leaders and companies.

“I think one thing that we’ve discovered through this process is that there are some of our greatest cheerleaders and assets that are out there in the whole county that can promote Greensboro, Guilford County and High Point,” Westmoreland said.

Christensen said that process was already off to a good start since, in 2016, consultants had collected a lot of data that should be helpful in the branding effort.

“A lot of it’s done,” Christensen said of that step.

After the Bouvier Kelly representatives left, several board members said they had been impressed with the presentation.

Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips said, “The way they think is very attractive to me. I like that approach – taking a lot of imagery, a lot of information and putting it together. And look for some consistent theme that pops out.”

There was also a good deal of agreement that the project should be given to a local firm.

After approving the project for Bouvier Kelly, the GCEDA Leadership Board handled some other business. For instance, it’s time for Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem to each pony up $100,000 in dues for the group as they did last year.

“It is the beginning of the year so it may be time to make those annual investments,” Christensen said.

One board member indicated that Christensen sounded like a preacher.

“That’s the first time I’ve ever been compared to a priest or a minster, but that’s all right,” Christensen said.

At the meeting, Phillips also stated that Westmoreland was willing to have his car wrapped with the new logo, though it doesn’t appear Westmoreland will actually be willing to do that.

This was also the first meeting run by the board’s chairman for 2017, Cone Health CEO Terry Akin, who’s also chair of the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce board of directors.