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'Vital communities and vital resources'

| Tuesday, April 15, 2003

"Accomplishment through connected individuality -- linking vital individuals, vital communities and vital resources."

Those 12 words comprise the central theme developed by a team of consultants working with community leaders spearheading a $200,000 effort to close the southwestern Pennsylvania region's "image gap."

Not a slogan or a tagline, the theme is viewed as a starting point toward ending outdated misconceptions about the region, and thus aid in efforts to attract tourists and talented individuals, and to promote business expansion, say leaders of a 120-member Image Gap committee, who introduced it at a news conference in Pittsburgh on Monday.

"The hard work is really starting here," said George Miles, chairman of the group's steering committee, in explaining hopes for what has been called the new "regional brand" yesterday morning at the Xplorian center at the Regional Enterprise Tower, Downtown.

Miles, who also is president of WQED Multimedia, said the debut of theme marked the culmination of the first phase of what is envisioned as a multiyear effort designed to portray to the world the qualities that distinguish the 13-county southwestern Pittsburgh from competitor cities, and to take the steps necessary to deal with shortcomings that are impeding the region's ability to grow.

In addition to an outdated, smoky-city image dating back to its industrial history, local officials have identified a number of other problems. For example, views gathered from focus groups showing the region is perceived as not really friendly, but only "cordial" to outsiders, and that is not a "hip" location or attractive to young people.

"This will be a long-term process and the proof will be in the implementation," Miles said. "Our future success depends on the ability of all of our communities to connect individuals, especially newcomers, to economic, cultural and recreational opportunities throughout the region."

As reported, leaders of the Image Gap project hope various organizations, including tourism groups, companies, universities and others who already do marketing, will incorporate elements of the brand initiative in those efforts.

Since January, the image gap leaders have been trying to hone a workable brand from a group of five core strengths research identified as representing the qualities that best identify the region: World Class Urban Setting ... Small Town Feel; A Genuine Opportunity to Make an Impact; Heritage and Current Home of Innovation and Transformation; Pride in Working, Making & Doing; and Urban Beauty Surrounded by Rivers & Outdoor Adventure.

Officials said yesterday they made some revisions after further research, but only in the fourth and fifth strengths, which now read: Pride in Working, Making and Creating, and Rivers, Mountains and Outdoor Adventure Surrounding Unique Urban Beauty.

Officials hope regional organizations will emphasize these strengths in their marketing. That is, as opposed to developing, at least initially, a much more extensive regional marketing campaign which could be based on a catchy slogan. That could come later, but it likely would be considerably more expensive than this initial effort, which was paid for by area foundations and local economic development organizations.

But to help reach as many people and organizations as possible, officials have developed a redesigned Internet site that carries an online communications "toolkit" designed for widespread use.

The kit includes a group of flashy photographic images, a pallet of colors, and even a special group of type fonts that groups and organizations can adapt to their own specific needs, such as brochures or printed marketing materiels. Other features include testimonials about the region gathered from three separate audiences -- residents, businesses and visitors. All, which the exception of the typographic fonts, can be used free of charge, officials said.

"Everything on there (the Internet site) you can cut, paste and download," said Laura Gongos, managing director, Burson-Marsteller/Pittsburgh, one of three consultant companies involved with the project. The local company has been working since October with Landor Associates of Cincinnati and Wirthlin Worldwide of McLean, Va., in developing the new brand.

A number of major tourist and development organizations, including The Greater Pittsburgh Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance and the Pittsburgh Technology Council already have begun incorporating elements of the branding initiative into their communications.

But for others, including smaller groups in the various participating counties, one of the next steps will be to conduct outreach efforts, to educate and explain to them how they might utilize the tools provided, Gongos said.

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