In the early 1990s, Stuart Smalley was a character on Saturday Night Live. Smalley, played by now-Senator Al Franken, was a wimpy, push-over of a self-help psychiatrist whose signature move was looking into a mirror and saying “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggonnit, people like me.”
Pete McGinty is Columbus’ Stuart Smalley.
Although McGinty is the aesthetic opposite of Smalley, standing at 6’6”, his role to Columbus is much the same as Smalley’s role to his clients. McGinty is president of Fahlgren Advertising, a Columbus-based advertising agency that was recently tapped to solve Columbus’ image problem.
“Historically, Columbus has had no image. It’s been pretty anonymous,” McGinty said. “It’s not been a bad image. I think people mostly don’t know who we are.”
But this isn’t an effort by McGinty alone. Last year, a group of Columbus organizations, including the Columbus Chamber, the Columbus Foundation, Columbus 2020! and Experience Columbus, all combined their efforts to build a message capturing the essence of Columbus.
Paul Astleford is president and CEO of Experience Columbus, the sales and marketing arm of the city’s tourism bureau. He said Columbus’ image problem has put the city “behind in the 21st century.”
“If you’re going to compete for new businesses or income sources like the visitor industry, you have to have an established image presentation,” Astleford said.
Astleford said part of the reason Columbus has failed to garner national recognition is because past efforts were too narrow-minded, often run buy a single organization and treated Columbus like a corporation rather than a community.
“In a corporation, the CEO says ‘You have to do it this way, and if you’re not on board, bye-bye.’ In a community, you can’t do that,” he said. “You will never be successful at creating a successful image distinction that everyone can be proud of.”
The idea of developing a brand everyone can be proud of, along with the city’s bicentennial celebration next year, was what led the groups to collaborate, McGinty said.
“You start connecting the dots and you’ve got all these organizations that have their messages out there and they start looking alike, they’re feeling alike, they’re telling the same story,” he said. “That’s how we’re going to build a brand for Columbus over time.”
Kenny McDonald, CEO of Columbus 2020!, agrees. “Instead of us all going and doing individual things, at times we need to go at it together,” McDonald said. “We have a much stronger message that way.”
Columbus 2020! is a group made up of leaders from groups like the Columbus Partnership, the Columbus Chamber, the Columbus Foundation and Ohio State. Its main goal is to attract and retain businesses to the Central Ohio Region, which includes Franklin and eight adjacent counties.
“By the time this is all said and done, we want to see 180,000 net new jobs, $8 billion worth of investment, and our per capita income raised,” McDonald said.