Warm, fuzzy propaganda

If you believe in a vibrant downtown Reno, clap your hands.

See, guys? We’ve already bought into the plan. Save yourselves some money. Who could argue with a goal as intuitively obvious as a vital, thriving capitalistic epicenter to our fair city? Why would you pay good money to pitch this concept to the very taxpayers who’ll be paying the marketing tab?

Just imagine this: Sometimes people criticize the city government for its decisions regarding downtown redevelopment. That’s bad. That divides us into more than one ideological region, and yes, we have more than one vision.

To “counteract the vocal critical minority,” marketing specialists from Gustincurtis Advertising proposed a new marketing plan to the Reno City Council Tuesday. The group was contacted by City Manager Charles McNeely, who was impressed by the firm’s campaigns for the University of Nevada, Reno, and the Regional Transportation Commission.

With the ReTrac train trench issue in mind, McNeely asked Gustincurtis to study the possible marketing of city redevelopment. Gustincurtis—the same guys who worked on Councilman Dave Aiazzi’s campaign, and he acknowledged this at the table—came up with an idea and a plan.

“We don’t think your vision for downtown is communicated clearly enough,” said Mark Curtis, a partner and creative director of Gustincurtis. Curtis presented the “Just Imagine” campaign—designed to provoke warm redevelopment fuzzies in our many tummies.

The plan has cost the city about $14,000 so far, McNeely said. Any questions?

Well, for one thing, is it appropriate for a public agency like the City Council to attempt to sell the public on its ideas, Councilman David Rigdon asked.

“Cities all over the country are coming to the conclusion that the best way to communicate a vision is to get out there and market it,” Curtis said. Often a city’s vision ends up filtered through the eyes of others, like, say, the media. This muddies the message, he said.

“Wouldn’t it be better to do a traditional public information campaign, throwing information out there to engender public discussion?” Rigdon continued.

“I don’t think it’s our job as marketers to educate people,” Curtis said. “You can’t both put a point of view out there on direction and vision—and give them incredible details—and then expect support. It doesn’t happen.”

Councilwoman Jessica Sferrazza-Hogan said the proposal made her stomach feel queasy.

“This plan stinks of brainwashing,” she said. “It really does. These are public dollars we’re using. The private sector ought to market downtown.”

She complained about a recent property tax hike and the need to pave streets.

Mayor Jeff Griffin barely disguised his irritability and politely called for a vote. Sferrazza-Hogan accused him of cutting off discussion. Griffin buried his face in his hands. The debate continued.

In the end, the ayes had it, with a 4-3 vote.

"There’s no gray area here," the dissenting Rigdon said. "This is black. This crosses the line between providing information that creates a public debate and taking a side."