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Is 'Advance' a real marketing strategy?

February 24, 2009

"Hagerstown Advance." As one editor said, it sounds like a payday loan.

Of course, we do trust that the City of Hagerstown will get more for its $58,000 than just a catchphrase - at least that was the idea when it hired four local firms to come up with a marketing plan for the city.

In marketing terms, maybe "Hagerstown Advance" is a work of brilliance, but it's left a lot of nonmarketers scratching their heads.

City Economic Development Director Deborah Everhart said she hopes the marketing initiative will help fill the upper floors of vacant buildings downtown, attract higher-paying jobs and give the city a better presence on the Internet.

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If that happens, $58,000 will seem like the mother of all bargains.

Still, hundreds of thousands of dollars go into funding the city and county economic development commissions and the convention and visitors bureau, not to mention staff in city and county governments (the city is part of the county, after all) that are charged with the mission of publicity.

This begs the question, what is the purpose of these people and agencies if not to "fill the upper floors of vacant buildings downtown, attract higher-paying jobs and give the city a better presence on the Internet?"

At the risk of sounding flip, if "Hagerstown Advance" is a harbinger of ideas to come, it seems to us that the governments might have had people in house who could equal the output of this marketing brain trust.

In the city's defense, there is some history here. City officials have long felt that county economic development and hotel-tax monies have not flowed into Hagerstown in proportion to the commercial and individual population. That's a valid claim.

And sometimes fresh, outside perspectives of marketing professionals can stir the lumpy porridge of institutional thought.

Again, if this $58,000 does serve to inject some energy into the downtown, it might prove to be money well spent.

But the pressure is on the marketing team, and the city, to produce some results with these tax dollars. If not, there will be a lot of circumspect people calling Hagers-town Advance by its acronym: HA!

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