A public service announcement

The Reno News & Review finds itself in a peculiar spot.

When the city was presented with a plan to rebrand the city using an R in an octagon that’s indistinguishable from the R in our logo, our editor made clear that while we wouldn’t have a legal leg to stand on to prevent them from using it, the city doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on to prevent us, or anyone else, using it.

We are returning to this topic because the city keeps raising the issue with us.

The city’s logo—the city’s marketers were made aware of its similarity to our R nearly two years ago—is so generic that it can’t be trademarked or copyrighted. Basically, the city could buy a copy of the typeface—it probably already owns it—and use it in any way it chooses.

The city’s apparent misguided effort to use the logo, despite being told how problematic it is, is a mistake. A logo needs to be unique. It needs to be so unique that it can be trademarked and copyrighted. That way, people who want to hurt the city’s reputation by using its logo can’t. That is quite specifically what intellectual property protections are for: to allow the owner to control the message and protect its reputation. A good logo qualifies for both copyright and trademark protection. The R qualifies for neither.

The city of Reno occasionally does some controversial things. Think entities like us that were against spending all that money on the train trench couldn’t have made the city look stupid by using that R? Think Reno Police Department or Reno Redevelopment or Reno-Tahoe International Airport don’t fall into the shade cast by this umbrella?

That’s satire. We do it all the time. It wouldn’t make much sense for us to regularly use the R with our logo because it would undermine our own brand. Still, it would be very easy for us to selectively use the symbols RN&R inside octagons any time we had a cover story about the dominatrix down the street, and our readers would get the joke. Every time. And eventually, the city’s use of the symbol would very specifically make people think of the RN&R instead of the river, the mountains, the weather, the job and education opportunities that the city is trying to incorporate into its brand.

But we’re mostly benevolent, and our choices about playing politics are always based on current politics and our place in the community. But what about people in contract negotiations or a lawsuit or people who have battles that they will try to win at any cost? That R could easily be associated with anything negative about this city—even the city’s fiscal irresponsibility.

We can say from past experience that city leaders and managers demand that their message be managed. That’s why they employ information officers. That’s why they single out reporters in Council meetings.

This message cannot be managed. The single symbol that city leaders want to use to represent the city can’t be protected.

This editorial is a friendly message to the management of the city of Reno. Before you spend a dollar committing to that logo, talk to public relations professionals (obviously, different ones than those who sold you this bill of goods). Talk to lawyers who specialize in intellectual property rights. Put this rebranding effort out to RFP so these concerns can be addressed.