Even as the Downtown Improvement District pursues a unified strategy for marketing downtown Sarasota, there’s discord among stakeholders about how to proceed as the planning process takes place.
On July 6, the DID held its first meeting following a June workshop with other downtown groups about marketing and promotion. During the workshop, groups including the Downtown Sarasota Alliance and Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association expressed interest in creating consistent branding for the heart of the city.
But as the DID tried to figure out its next step at the July 6 meeting, the board expressed anxiety about getting other groups to contribute financially to an advertising push.
“Everyone says, ‘Yeah, you do it — and we’ll cheer you on,’” DID board member Mark Kauffman said. “I want to see more participation.”
Although Kauffman expressed skepticism about the prospect of getting broad buy-in for a marketing campaign, the rest of the board is hopeful the DID can set the tone for advertising from the Rosemary District to Burns Court.
DID Chairman Ron Soto suggested the organization could adopt its own messaging for advertising and encourage other organizations to use the same promotional tools. Anand Pallegar, whose marketing firm atLarge is working with the DID, suggested that would be more likely to succeed than asking for money before settling on an actual message.
Still, there’s no guarantee other organizations will buy in.
“I think it could potentially work, but it’s a risk,” Pallegar said.
In the meantime, other downtown groups are trying to balance the desire to buy-in with a need to proceed with their own marketing campaigns. Francine DiFilippo Kent, chairwoman of the Downtown Sarasota Alliance, said the DID’s decisions will affect how the DSA promotes downtown, which includes posting banners on downtown light poles.
“Part of this design situation needs to be — how do we transition from what we’ve been doing to what you want to do that’s new?” DiFilippo Kent said. “You can’t just jump horses.”
And, despite receiving a commitment of $15,000 from the DID in March, the organizers of the ongoing We Are Downtown promotional campaign have been reluctant to spend that money right now, as downtown leaders are brainstorming a new marketing message.
“We don’t want to be wasting money you’ve allocated on something that’s not going to last,” said Tre Michel, co-owner of State of the Art Gallery and organizer of the We Are Downtown campaign alongside Paul Thorpe.
Although Michel was concerned about putting money into a marketing campaign that could soon be out-of-date, the DID directed her to proceed with that messaging. The board agreed that settling on a new brand identity could take a long time, if it comes to fruition at all.
“That effort shouldn’t stop while we try to form this organization (leading a unified downtown marketing campaign), because this organization isn’t going to come to be,” Kauffman said. “I have very little confidence — so in the meantime, you should keep doing what you’re doing.”
Despite Kauffman’s doubt, the board voted to proceed with developing a conceptual message for branding and promoting downtown to share with other stakeholder groups. As a whole, the DID still believes it can generate the momentum necessary to unite the entirety of downtown behind one promotional concept.
“I think the goal is that all ships will rise with the tide,” DID Operations Manager John Moran said. “Someone has to build the structure.”