Making the Brand.

Growing up in Rutland, I’ve developed a cynical attitude that has often tainted my experiences here. I’ve tossed around the “Rut Vegas” name with self-deprecating irony, and when traveling, I’ve often said I live in the “Killington area” with the type of fervent denial that would give St. Peter pause. If you talk to me for more than ten minutes in Café Terra, I’ll likely be lamenting local news coverage or calling for the ouster of an Alderman (or several). While I may not be as bitter as the “Debby Downers” who lurk in anonymity on the Herald’s message boards, I am far from Rutland’s biggest cheerleader. But lately, I’ve been sipping the Kool-Aid, and it’s not all that bad.

I was skeptical when I first heard news of Rutland’s re-branding. Paying somebody to come to our town to tell us what is special about it seems like an indicator of a much bigger problem—a problem that a new logo and catchphrase couldn’t possibly fix. However, it’s unfair to write off what the folks from ArnettMuldrow did as simply an empty ad campaign. This project isn’t about attracting tourists or new residents (though, that is an eventual part of the strategy); it’s first and foremost about changing our own perception of the Rutland Area.

My experience at this series of meetings was wholly positive. For those of you who think it was just the same Good Ol’ Boys and Gals sitting around and talking about how great Rutland used to be, you’re wrong. The discourse was honest, frank, and at times, even philosophical. We explored the psyche of the city—what were we all about, what made us tick—and despite all the shortcomings that we so often get bogged down in pointing out, we came through with a positive image.

As expected, people were quick to tear down the work of not just the “outsiders,” but also that of their neighbors—the ones who took the time to get involved in the process. Remember, folks, all these events were open to the public, and adequately publicized. The Facilitated Public Input Session at the Paramount only drew forty people. The Brand Presentation wasn’t much better.

Given our community’s proclivity to only see the negative, I have not been at all surprised by “Connected, Naturally’s” cool reception. From the choice of a non-local firm to the ambivalence over the logo to the perceived vagueness of the tagline, Rutlanders have been quick to heap criticism upon the project.

People have attacked the Rutland Redevelopment Authority for not opening this project to bid locally. As “one of those buy local people,” you may think it hypocritical of me not to take issue with this, however, in this circumstance, I believe that there is a benefit to getting an objective point of view. Those of us who live here are not able to see Rutland beyond the lens of our personal experiences and interactions. After attending the branding meetings, I saw the importance of having people involved who have an outsider’s view of the area. As a result, they were able to make observations and connections that most of us have missed for years.

As for the logo, yes, it does need some smoothing out. However, the concept behind it is strong—it connotes movement and positive progress (often a dirty word around these parts), and manages to tie in colors that allude to Rutland’s urban/rural duality. Remember, this isn’t the final product; it’s currently being reworked based on the suggestions given by those who attended the meetings.

Similarly, many have expressed their confusion as to what exactly “Connected, Naturally” means. One the face of it, the notion of being connected is a way of engaging the surrounding towns and villages with Rutland. Chittenden, Mendon, Pittsford, Clarendon, Rutland Town (yes, even you)—we’re all part of the same community. Something else that was repeated frequently over the three days of meetings was the Rutland area’s dual nature—an urban center surrounded by a lush and productive rural landscape where agricultural and recreational activities abound. We are a true farm-to-city community. One thing that became evident in our discussions was the necessity to embrace this unique and increasingly relevant relationship.
It’s very easy to criticize; however, being a constructive, active contributor requires some commitment. I know people are busy with work and families. Making it to a one of these meetings may not have been a top priority (though, I would argue that those who dominate the negative discussions on the Herald’s message boards seem to have more than enough free time).

If I may be blunt, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t sit on the sidelines, and then tear down the work others have done. The opportunities for input and involvement were there (and are still available); if you have something constructive and helpful to say about anything in our city, then get involved. But if all you have are put downs and mean-spiritedness then please stay at home; nobody wants to hear it.

It’s time for a moratorium on the negative attitude, Rutland. We have a strategy. Now, comes the execution. This is the part where Rutland has faltered in the past. The challenge of making this effort succeed lies squarely on all of us. It is the responsibility of our leaders in city government and organizations like the RRA and the Partnership to implement these strategies effectively.

And it is upon us to be supportive of these efforts. It is our responsibility as citizens to be promoters of positive change and intelligent progress that moves our community forward. It is the challenge for all of us to move in a direction that embraces and preserves our rural agriculture while promoting the types of successful local business opportunities and smart growth that are necessary to the betterment of our community.

(originally published in The Rutland Herald 10/9/08)

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