Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau announced last month that it hired Believable Brands, a California-based consulting firm, to launch a marketing campaign for the city of Wichita.
But Go Wichita has declined to say how much it is paying the company or to release a copy of its contract. Go Wichita – the Greater Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau – has received roughly $2.4 million each year over the past several years in public funds from the city.
Believable Brands has a website under construction, it has a disconnected phone number on its website and the listed address appears to be a residence in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
“I’m in a fortunate situation,” said Gary Sherwin, president of Believable Brands in a phone interview. “I have never really had the website up and operational only because the company is through word of mouth. I’ve never really had to do my own marketing... Frankly, a lot of cities come to me. I don’t go out there trolling for clients to work with.”
Sherwin was recently in Wichita to lead a community forum on a branding strategy.
In addition to being the Believable Brands president, Sherwin is the president of Visit Newport Beach Inc. in California, according to its website. He is also on the Orange County Visitors Association board of directors, according to its website.
“Believable Brands was hired to help us identify the community brand,” said James Williams, communications manager for Go Wichita, in an e-mail. “This initial phase is about developing the brand position statement and strategy which we anticipate will conclude by the end of the year. This does not involve a marketing campaign, logo, tagline or any other creative elements.”
“We did accept bids for the community brand strategy, had a selection process with the other community partners and selected Believable Brands based on their proposal.”
Sherwin said he co-authored a book on branding in 2004 and that a university optioned the book as a class. Susie Santo, now the president of Go Wichita, took that class and that’s how he got to know her, Sherwin said. Santo worked for Universal Studios Hollywood in California before joining Go Wichita in 2012.
“I don’t use my class as a way to market services. It’s all by word of mouth,” he said.
Partnering with Go Wichita in the branding project are the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, Wichita Downtown Development Corp., Wichita Community Foundation and Wichita State University.
The Omaha World-Herald reported earlier this year that Believable Brands was part of the team behind the statewide tourism slogan “Nebraska Nice,” which drew mixed reviews, including some criticisms saying it was “boring.” The World-Herald reported the market research for the brand included surveys and interviews with more than 3,500 people and a cost of $75,000 through the state’s tourism commission.
Believable Brands also is part of the branding effort for downtown Casper, Wyo., the Casper Star Tribune reported in May.
Sherwin said the visit a few weeks ago to Wichita was his first to the city.
“I really enjoyed my time there. I say that in complete sincerity,” he said. “I enjoyed seeing the residential areas and the downtown area. Wichita has so many assets.”
Branding is more than just a logo or slogan, Sherwin said. It’s more about the story you tell to market your product. For example, “Disney is not selling rides, but selling magical memories,” he said.
Work on Wichita’s brand is still in data collection mode, Sherwin said. He plans to return to Wichita in mid-November to present his research findings and propose a brand position statement.
“Sometimes I see where the brand is going after a visit,” he said. “This one is wait and see.”