Downtown Marketing Program Slow to Get Going

Category: Hospitality & Tourism

Coastal Marketing Group & Clark Creative Honored by Georgia’s Downtown Association

SBJ Staff Report

Just a week or so ago, the statewide Georgia Downtown Association (GDA) and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) named the Savannah Development and Renewal Authority's Downtown Image Campaign as the winner of the Best Image Building Campaign in Georgia. Some might say the award was a bit premature.

The announcement was made at the annual conference of the Georgia Downtown Association (DCA) in Roswell. The campaign was created by two local companies, Coastal Marketing Group & Clark Creative, working together to develop a strategy to help the City of Savannah run a marketing campaign to attract local consumer traffic back downtown.

Tourists alone can not achieve a vital, vibrant downtown Savannah business climate. Local residents need to use the downtown businesses to insure a stable, year-around economic base for Savannah’s Historic District.

The SDRA began a low-level launch of the campaign in August and is currently in the midst of a fundraising effort to expand the marketing strategy. But only one print ad has been purchased so far, run just once in two different magazines, according to Karl Strauch, owner of Coastal Marketing Group.  The TV commercials the pair developed have run only on the city’s time slots on Comcast, ad spots that the city already owns as part of Comcast’s licensing agreement, though few report seeing them.

Strauch appreciates the recognition by the various state agencies but would like to see his and Clark’s work actually getting used.

“The status is they need to raise money. The notion was that we were going to use some of what we produced to attract investment from companies,” by running print and TV ads, he said. “Since there wasn’t much upfront money available to buy media,” that didn’t happen, he said in frustration.

“Paula Dean made a pledge for between $20,000 to $30,000, but it is being billed over a year and a half, so it’s not being billed all at one time,” explained Strauch.  “We’ve only been able to use some of our stuff in a very limited fashion.”

“We’re trying to get consumer traffic back downtown, which will make the businesses more successful,” he added.  Vacancy rates are climbing in the Broughton Street area and in the historic district.

Even Lise Sundrla, executive director of the SDRA, said she hadn’t seen any TV ads, when contacted recently.

The campaign's ultimate goal is to create greater awareness among city residents and potential investors in downtown Savannah of the area’s attributes in order to foster economic growth for all of Chatham County, but the city has been the only entity coming up with funding so far.

According to Ralph Zezza, the SDRA’s dynamic 76-year-old chairman of its board, and the head of the new marketing campaign, it’s an idea that has been used with success in other cities.  Zezza was a long-time resident of the Historic District and ran a retail business for a number of years just off of MArtin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

"Savannah's success story and Paula's success story are directly tied together," said Zezza,"Paula has grown with Savannah and Savannah with Paula. It only makes sense that she would be motivated to help Savannah reach its potential."

Deen's contribution, paired with $170,000 that the SDRA and the City of Savannah have already committed, as well as other donations, will assist in financing further marketing and public relations efforts as the campaign continues its momentum, said Zezza at the time that the campaign was launched in August.

But an estimated $500,000 is needed to carry the program on for an 18 to 24 months run. “They are a long way from that goal,” said Strauch. 
Brian Foster, chairman of First Chatham Bank, is heading corporation contributions. He was the SDRA's first chairman of the board of directors from 1992 to 1996.

Leaders also hope that the completion of the Ellis Square project, overdue but nearing an end, will bring more local visitors downtown over the holidays. The area has been under construction for almost three years.

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