Mayor to Tulsans: City needs a 'brand' name
BY BRIAN BARBER World Staff Writer
Sunday, November 25, 2012
11/25/12 at 8:10 AM
Find all the stories from Staff Writers Brian Barber and Kevin Canfield about city government in Tulsa.
When Tulsa comes to mind, what do you think about?
The city's natural beauty? Its friendly and generous residents? Perhaps the American Indian heritage?
Maybe a particular industry? As the birthplace of Route 66? Or Tulsa's vibrant arts and music scene?
"I bet you could walk down the street asking people that and hear 50 different answers," Mayor Dewey Bartlett said.
But what Bartlett will endeavor to do in the new year is start the public discussion to come up with a new brand for Tulsa, even the region.
It's a process cities across the country are going through in order to make themselves stand out to help attract more economic development and residents.
And Tulsa, once touted as the Oil Capital of the World, long ago lost the credentials to call itself that.
Bartlett has traveled all over the United States and recently through Great Britain, Europe and Japan, and always inquires of others what they think about when they hear "Tulsa."
"In England, they think of iconic Route 66," he said. "In Japan, it was energy, while in Germany it was the Wild West, and we do have the largest Western art collection in the world here."
Some know Tulsa as the base of the Tulsa Community Foundation, the largest community foundation in the nation, Bartlett said. Others have pointed to the city's abundant water supply and compressed natural gas resources.
"We may see ourselves one way or another, but, really, this is about the way others see us," he said.
"If people see us as a particular descriptive phrase, then we've already won the battle of branding. As long as it's positive, of course."
Bartlett's not talking about the slogan, A New Kind of Energy, which is stamped on city vehicles and other property, but something much broader.
To get the ball rolling, several of the citizen task forces established by the mayor and council to explore different issues are coming up with their own branding recommendations.
Sean Griffin serves on the city's Economic Development Commission's entrepreneurship committee and said he has a brand to embrace, "Tulsa's cool."
"I think that's the campaign," he said. "It's simple and direct."
The city's cool factor is something residents hear from outsiders who visit and enjoy the local businesses, music scene, eateries, museums, parks and other hot spots, Griffin said.
Such a brand would also help enhance the city's entrepreneur ecosystem in that businesses would want to locate and grow here, he said.
"We have to capture the excitement that other people already have about Tulsa," Griffin said.
Ted Jacobs of the city's Energy Task Force said there's a brand that makes sense coming from the former Oil Capital of the World - "the Philanthropy Capital of the World."
"To me that's a title we've had for a long time, we've just never claimed it," Jacobs said. "Energy and oil and all of that will have their pros and cons, but philanthropy is good for everyone.
"And it's a direct result of Tulsa having been the Oil Capital. The money that built this city and still remains here through sons and daughters is the direct result of that oil heyday."
Brian Paschal of the city's Film and Music Task Force said a strong case can be made to brand Tulsa as the "Creative Center of the United States," given its location and its cultural base.
"We should firmly take that mantle and say, 'We are an arts town,' " he said. "I think other people see it. We just need to declare it."
Some who have visited Tulsa say it's like Austin was 20 to 25 years ago, before that city proactively decided it was going to become "The Live Music Capital of the World," Paschal said.
"That was at a time when Austin was not that, but they systematically got on the same page and fulfilled that proclamation," he said.
Ken Busby of the Beautification Task Force said his group believes Tulsa needs to reclaim the title that was once bestowed upon it by a Reader's Digest article back in the 1950s - "America's Most Beautiful City."
"Everything we are doing as part of this task force, our recommendations and so forth, is to re-create that image," he said.
Some may say the city has lost that luster over the years, but it's attainable, Busby said.
"We have pockets of Tulsa that are beautiful, but we need to bridge those pockets and get everyone excited again about their own neighborhoods and particular areas, really instill that community pride."
But Bartlett isn't going to stop with task force recommendations.
The mayor intends to have an open-ended question in a citizens survey to be done in January asking the public for suggestions.
From there, the discussion will evolve.
"It's going to be a long-range process, but it's good to have this conversation as a community about our identity," he said.
"I've always been a firm believer in taking control of our own destiny."
Original Print Headline: Tulsans look for city's new moniker
Brian Barber 918-581-8322
Downtown Tulsa's skyline lights up the night sky. TOM GILBERT / Tulsa World file