People have said a lot of things about Cary over the years. They’ve called it safe, friendly and – you’ve heard the jokes – a little boring.
Now, some Cary officials say it’s time for the town to say something about itself.
The town of 160,000 has never had what could be described as a unified branding strategy. Town Manager Sean Stegall, who took the job last summer, noticed this early on.
“We’re very well-known in the greater Triangle and North Carolina area, but I think we have a positive message to share well beyond the borders of the state,” Stegall said. “An aggressive branding and marketing campaign would reap a lot of rewards.”
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Stegall has proposed working with consultants to take a more active approach to managing Cary’s image, both toward current residents and the people and businesses the town hopes to attract. Cary’s economic development committee took up the issue earlier this month, and the Town Council will consider whether to pursue it sometime this spring.
A particular target of that campaign, Stegall said, would be millennials, or young adults between 20 and 35, who tend to see sharp contrasts between predominantly suburban areas like Cary and rapidly developing areas like downtown Durham.
“Cary is a multi-facted community that certainly has been well known for its classic suburban characteristics,” Stegall said. “Great schools, great neighborhoods. But there’s also a lot of very positive momentum downtown as it relates to your more urban-type of offering. I think Cary has something for everybody, and I don’t think that message has gotten out as much.”
Councilman Jack Smith, a member of the council’s economic development committee, said part of the reason Cary is addressing this now has to do with the political turmoil that’s caused several large employers and events to pull out of North Carolina in the year since the controversial state law known as House Bill 2 went into effect. Among other things, the law prohibits transgender people from using bathrooms other than those corresponding with the sex on their birth certificate.
Deutsche Bank announced it would freeze the addition of 250 jobs that already had been announced.
Smith said Cary might want to actively manage its image so it can insulate itself from the national and international backlash to the law.
“There are a lot of challenges facing North Carolina with its image,” Smith said. “Cary has typically been head and shoulders above that – it’s the most diverse community in North Carolina. Twenty percent of our population was born overseas. We wanted to make sure that message gets out, and part of that can be supported by a new brand.”
If the council gives the branding effort its support, town staff will begin pursuing contracts with branding consultants in May, Stegall said, with work continuing throughout the summer and early fall. The final product would likely include a new logo, a new tagline, and a distillation of the characteristics Cary should highlight in its efforts to win new business and residents.
Stegall said the branding effort would be important “even if HB2 hadn’t happened,” but agreed with Smith that a primary focus of the campaign ought to be recruitment and name-recognition among national and international businesses and their potential employees.
The seventh-largest municipality in the state already makes a point of calling itself “Cary, NC” when doing business with external partners and “The Town of Cary” when addressing its 160,000 residents. That distinction might be codified and expanded upon under a new branding program, Smith said.
“That conversation has come up for the past 20 years in retreats,” Smith said. “The word ‘town’ on an international scale might be viewed by large corporations as very remote, very small and not capable of handling the business. I suspect if you’re doing a branding effort, you wouldn’t brag about being a town. You would just be Cary.”
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan