1271b market street chattanooga, tn

Creating Communications Strategy

River City Company Rebrand

More than ever, we are being asked to create communications strategies for new or established companies – to help them launch. Building on prior research or positioning ideas, we write solid, business-minded, strategic communications platforms – then coach teams of writers and designers on how to implement. 

So when our downtown's strongest voice was preparing to relaunch with a new President and a changing Board, its leadership asked us to lead them through a rebranding and help develop their communications plan.

We started with great research from Kennedy Coulter and the Ochs Center for Economic Development, and attended key meetings with River City and stakeholders in the community. Then, working with longtime collaborator and communications strategist Caleb Ludwick, our team came to a quick and dirty realization:

We were more and more convinced that the question of "What is River City Company" is integrally related to "What is Chattanooga?" – and "What are we becoming?"

In Chattanooga, we are crazy about our downtown. And we love to talk about it – particularly about its turnaround, the big love of recent decades that made us what we are today. And so we should – because this has shaped who we are, and anything we build today is standing on the shoulders of giants. 

But our history is only part of our story. A historic renaissance isn't enough; if we always point backward, we limit our potential. Particularly when we talk to people outside of this Best Small City in America – but in truth, locals aren't really any different. Folks want to know: 

What has downtown done for me lately?

River City has a history of success as well as a future focus. Theirs is a strong voice that downtown needs. 

According to the strategic plan developed by Kim White and the River City board, the group will remain a facilitator of key projects, ramp up recruiting, and evolve animation – and also become downtown's advocate and marketer.



We helped create archetypal audiences:

Businesses (retail, corporations, the business of residency; big, small, all in between)

Established Partners who know River City and the value they bring downtown projects, and the value downtown brings to the region

New Partners who need to know River City's highly relevant skill set, and to connect

The Public - individuals and families who live, work or play downtown… or who do none of the above, yet

The Naysayers - who don't understand or appreciate the benefits of downtown yet (after all: downtown is for everyone!)



This is a lot to communicate, to a lot of people. So we also wanted to ensure that a rebrand did NOT do any of the following:

"New and improved?" This is not what we want to communicate. We will build off prior successes, projects and partnerships. But this should not be an overstated step away from what has been already accomplished – it should be an evolution.

Status quo marketing: Despite a legacy of bringing positive change through development and key partnerships, in recent years RiverCity’s influence has been somewhat hamstrung and even vilified. The absence of an audible voice or visibility from RiverCity has been part of the problem. Now it’s time to raise RiverCity’s profile.

Rah rah rah branding: If RiverCity suddenly points the spotlight on itself or begins to take credit – either for past successes or for stepping into the role of downtown champion because others have not – this may undermine trust and credibility.

The wizard behind the curtain: Anything that looks like a string-puller... This is an opportunity to explode assumptions and accusations that River City is a special interest group.




Good branding will:

Give their team's visual and verbal articulation tools ... a "kit of parts" for use with businesses, partners, the public and naysayers. Creating a communications platform that is integrated across channels... in the office, in materials, at events, online, in the media, etc etc.

Serve as a public statement of direction – a brief verbal articulation that captures your values, mission and strategy, and visuals that build upon the past, toward the future.

Be a filter to communicate what River City Company does internally (helping employees choose which projects are right) and externally (helping others know which projects to bring).

Inspire employees with the raw urgency and appeal of the task at hand, while helping external partners anticipate the right values and priorities for projects – and the public recognize the value River City adds to downtown.

Our challenge was to give a visual and verbal vocabulary that captures, and communicates, so many things to so many audiences.


This brand's shared values:

· builds on the past for the future

· works for everyone (not any one group). Our values are your values; your values are our values.

· Creates access and opportunity. Smart growth for economic, cultural and social benefit.

· Creates compelling conversations about downtown. Live + work + play = life is downtown.

· Also speaks to the region: You don’t need to live or work downtown to need downtown.

· Brings the right people from all corners together around the table.

· Talks easily about creativity and business, innovation and inspiration, politics and not for profits.

· Is hopeful and confident. It does not try to pretend that Chattanooga is New York or Paris, Portland or Greenville. It loves Chattanooga for who we are, and for who we can be.

· Is an expression of River City's core values and beliefs.


Part of this is a verbal articulation:

5 second:

  • RiverCity is downtown’s economic development company.

15 second:

  • RiverCity is downtown’s economic development company. Downtown is essential to the way our region works, plays and lives, so we work to bring its benefits to everyone.




Visually, the identity centers on a simple ribbon treatment that is variable — but always accessible, professional, even elegant, and distinctively River City. Because when it comes to application... the brand bends to serve River City, rather than River City bending to serve the brand.



In fact, it is very formalized, and locked into place, in terms of its designed uses. 



These uses are for literal signage — which can be directional, referencing exact geographies. They can also be experiential, referencing specific opportunities on offer downtown. 






Our photographer and designers also set up guidelines and met with River City's design team to show how to create the right visual and photographic effects. Also provided? Writing guidelines and strategy for freelance and in-house writers to use to create headlines, marketing copy, body copy - even articulation of River City's values and voice.





More/larger images can be found on our Flickr account.


Creative Direction: Paul Rustand; Art Direction / Strategy: Matt Greenwell; Design: D.J. Trischler, Beth Joseph, Grant Dotson. Communication Strategy and Writing: Caleb Ludwick. Photos provided by River City Company and edited/treated by Widgets & Stone.




case study - by widgets - 08/12/2010

White Space: