By KEVIN LYON
(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) – A new city committee is trying to find the best way to promote and market Warrensburg’s future.
The Warrensburg Convention and Visitors Bureau bounced around marketing and branding ideas for two hours Wednesday, and later settled on criteria to hire a director for the new WCVB.
The main part of the meeting centered on how to define Warrensburg and how to sell it. Nearly an hour and a half of the meeting was a discussion, led by board member and UCM professor Scott Smith, of how to do that.
“I think we’re in the same boat a lot of small towns are in,” Smith said. “I think you’ve got to be very focused in how you put forth the brand of your town.”
Four main ideas emerged regarding attractions and history that could be used to brand the town and attract visitors – Old Drum, the University of Central Missouri campus, local businesses like Those Were the Days, and local history in general, which focused on everything from UCM to the historic train depot downtown.
“We’re a new board and we really want to get this right,” said Matt VanSchenkhof, a UCM professor who chaired the meeting. “We’re just putting our foot in the water right now.”
Smith used Ashland, Ore., as an example of what could be done here. Ashland has 25,000 people but is known nationwide for its annual Shakespeare festival. The focus on a Shakespeare festival was a conscious decision that the town made, a decision that brings $58 million a year into Ashland, he said.
“We ought to offer up ideas of what we want to be,” said board member Tammy Leavy. “Branson started as one musical theater.”
“But it’s tough to get all of Warrensburg to come around to one thing,” VanSchenkhof said.
“It’s almost impossible,” said board member Sandra Irle.
Most of the board felt that Warrensburg was split between the UCM campus and the rest of the town. David Young, a board member, said it will be a hard task to fight the perception of Warrensburg as being solely a college town and of UCM as being a “suitcase university.”
“(The university) has always been very insular,” Irle said.
“That’s what I think is the problem,” said board member Kirsti Brunsvold. “I think we’ve made progress with that, but can we make more as a board? There’s a lot at the university that we could help promote to draw in visitors.”
The group decided that before making a final decision on what to do, they needed more input from community leaders and from Warrensburg residents.
“If we do choose to do focus groups,” VanSchenkhof said, “we need to make sure we come up with a theme that will (get) some buy-in to this process, and they can also feel ownership in it.”
Mike Racy, a board member, said a branding and marketing campaign is a multistep process.
“Maybe there’s a couple of steps to this,” Racy said. “Some information gathering (and) some decision making by this group to come up with our top three or top five ideas.”
The group assigned itself some homework of analyzing strategies from around the country. Each board member was charged with researching strategies from towns similar to Warrensburg’s size in Iowa, New York, Indiana, Kansas, Washington, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
The group also decided on initial hiring criteria for a director for the Warrensburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. They want someone who can support local businesses in marketing, drive new business, serve as a community model for the community, manage the budget, act as a central hub for the community and recruit and train volunteers.
“You want to get it bonded back together,” Young said. “We’d all agree there’s been that separation. You need information instead of us just sitting here going, ‘This is what’s best for Warrensburg.’ That’s pretty naive on our part to think we’ve got it all figured out.”
“We need to think, where do we want this to take us?” Leavy said. “Do we want to grow? Do we want to grow big? What do we want this to be?”
The next meeting is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 14, at the Municipal Center at the corner of South Holden Street and Madison Avenue. The meeting is open to the public. The board also decided to schedule a mixer on May 22 at the Comfort Inn to network with community leaders.