Middleburg Terminates Contract with Branding Firm, Looks for Another

More than a year and nearly $30,000 later, the Town of Middleburg is back to square one in its drive to develop an official town brand.

A deal between the town and the branding firm Native Collaboration fell through in April, almost a year after the Town Council approved a contract with the firm to develop a brand for the town to help bring in more visitors and boost the town’s economy. The deal saw the town spend $26,000 of the allocated $65,000 for the project. At the time, Business & Economic Development Director Jamie Gaucher expected the project would be completed before the end of 2018.

Town Administrator Danny Davis said the early contract termination “was a mutual agreement.”

“It was best for us to work with a different team,” he said.

Davis said that while the contract between the town and Native Collaboration has been terminated, the firm is still seeking $10,000 from the town for services it feels were delivered successfully. “That’s a discussion being worked out,” he said.

On Tuesday night, the council voted unanimously to authorize Davis to solicit informal proposals from firms interested in creating a town brand for no more than $40,000—which would keep costs for the project nearly within the confines of the original budgeted amount.

The town will not advertise a formal request for proposals to select a new firm, as it did last year when it selected Native Collaboration. Instead, the council voted unanimously to amend the Procurement Charter in the Town Code to allow the Town Council to set procurement limits on a case-by-case basis. The town’s “small purchases” policy previously required the town to adhere to a “competitive bidding” process for purchases of $15,000 or more.

“We do need to be able to in certain circumstances not have to go out for this vastly long, really expensive, cumbersome process only on a case-by-case basis when we all agree,” said Mayor Bridge Littleton.

The council’s April 2018 vote to contract with Native Collaboration came after the town advertised a request for proposals and received interest from 20 independent firms. According to the advertisement, the town wanted to encourage visitors to feel “as if they have been transported to another time, one of quaint charm and rich in history that fulfills the attractive and romantic qualities of travel.” The branding was intended to target an audience the town dubbed “nostalgic wanderlust,” which describes those who “value experiences over conspicuous consumption.”

The town hoped that Native Collaboration would develop a brand implementation strategy; a brand story and message; a brand mantra; a new logo; messages tailored to individual audiences; design concepts for the web, print, town vehicles and apparel; and an accountability plan, which would have given the town the ability to measure the project’s success.

Davis said the firm did develop a brand audit—or research that outlines the town’s character—by interviewing residents, business owners and visitors and conducting research in places like Richmond and Washington, DC to see if people had heard of Middleburg and what they thought of the town. Davis said the audit will act as a jumping-off point for the next firm to begin the brand design. “They prepared for us a fairly extensive research product,” he said.

Davis said that it would primarily be he and Councilman Philip Miller, who spearheaded the branding initiative last year, who will recommend a firm to the Town Council in the next two-to-six weeks. Once a firm is selected, it will be tasked with creating a brand identity and logo for the town that is “visually appealing,” that represents the town’s “diverse nature” and is “attractive to draw visitors.”

The selected firm will also be expected to develop a style guide to define how the logo should be used and, once the brand has been developed, help the town create print and digital marketing materials and other products like wayfinding signs, letterheads and business cards.

While CivicPlus should wrap up the town’s $41,632 website redesign in the coming weeks, Davis said the town would update the site with the new brand once it’s been developed later this summer.

“We want to go about it effectively and quickly,” Davis said. “We have talked for many months … about marketing collateral and being able to truly help support our businesses by promoting our town as a destination for visitors, day-trippers, overnight stays.”

The branding firm will be required to hold its first design review within a month of signing a contract with the town and will need to meet with the Ambassador Team within a month after that.

The Ambassador Team is comprised of residents and others who will provide the town and selected firm with input throughout the brand design process, given their diverse backgrounds.

Its members are Miller; Chris and Mary Ann Burns of Old Ox Brewery; Beth Erickson, the president and CEO of Visit Loudoun; Michael Goodfellow, a town resident; Lindsay Watts, a town resident and former general manager of the Ashby Inn; Ben Wegdam, the founder of West Federal Retail, which owns Crème de la Crème and lou lou Boutiques; Jenn Pineau, the founder of the Nature Composed floral design company; and Prem Devadas, the president of Salamander Hotels & Resorts.

The firm will present its brand design to the Town Council two weeks after its meeting with the Ambassador Team. The council will then give its final endorsement of the product two weeks after that, which could be as early as the fourth week in July or as late as the first week in September.


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