Branding and Building a New Downtown Flemington

Downtown Flemington NJ

Roger Brooks PortraitThe same force that revealed Devon, Alberta as “Bike Town,” and now exhorts visitors to “grab life by the handlebars,” will embrace Flemington, weigh its assets, distill its essence and develop its “brand.”

The Flemington Business Improvement District has hired Roger Brooks International of Peoria, Ariz., for $92,500 to guide the borough in an effort to develop a brand that will set it apart from other towns and attract visitors.

A look through the spiral-bound sales pitch that Brooks sent to the BID shows some additional examples of the company’s branding, including York, Pa., as America’s Industrial Art and Design Capital (“Creativity unleashed”); Alpena, Mich., as Sanctuary of the Great Lakes (“a place to rejuvenate, relax and re-energize”); and Jonesborough, Tenn., as the World’s Storytelling Capital (“Once upon a time … all the time!”)

But “branding isn’t just a logo or a slogan,” cautions Jeffrey Fleisher, chairman of the BID’s Planning and Recruitment Committee. “It’s an action plan for a town.”

“Roger Brooks selected us as much as we selected him,” says Robert Shore, chairman of the BID’s board of trustees. Fleisher said, “He doesn’t typically respond to RFPs, (requests for proposals) but he Googled us and looked us up and said Flemington had all the characteristics that he looks for in branding a town.”

Megan Jones HoltBID Executive Director Megan Jones-Holt said, “When I first came to the BID, I attended a seminar in Atlantic City hosted by Main Street New Jersey with Roger Brooks as the speaker. He was very dynamic and said a lot of things that made sense. I recommended to the board to purchase his online video library, and we have been using it quite a lot this past year in the committees and hosted workshops.

“When the board made the decision to implement a branding committee, I recommended we reach out to the Roger Brooks team to submit the RFP. I was very surprised they responded. When we did the interview with Roger, he stated that his team only takes on towns that they feel they can make a difference in. We were impressed that they vetted us! He knew the makeup of our town’s Main Street and voiced some ideas as to how they could add to it for a more visible impact,” Jones-Holt said.

The process will begin this summer and take about 24 weeks. According to Brooks’ proposal, it will have four phases:

  1. The assessment — where you are today and the baseline we work from.
  2. Public outreach — determining where you want to go, what you want to be known for.
  3. Research and sustainability — finding the direction that is most feasible, will encourage investment, jobs, increased tourism spending and will make you THE destination of choice.
  4. The Action Plan — the step-by-step guide to implementing the recommendations.

Early in the process, Roger Brooks International will help form a brand development team that will work with Brooks and his staff. “Building the brand as a unit with RBI as the facilitator and your research team, will ensure that the brand is YOURS, not ours,” Brooks’ proposal says.

An interesting element of the assessment phase is a four-day visit by Brooks, working incognito to see what the borough currently has to offer. His findings will be complemented by research by his staff into Flemington’s demographics, “lifestyle segmentation,” seasonal and geographic considerations, and more. They will also read the Strategic Advisory Group report on Flemington and the TerraNoble redevelopment ideas.

The general public will be part of the process. Brooks will conduct “a kickoff public workshop about branding,” and his proposal boasts, “There’s no one in North America that can get a community excited and enthused like Roger Brooks.” The public will also be invited to complete an online questionnaire consisting of nine questions about the branding effort. And when the brand direction has finally been determined, it will be unveiled at a public presentation.

Fleisher also expects, “We’ll have a charrette (brainstorming session) at some point with their experts.”

Shore said that hiring Brooks “is the logical next step for us,” following a very logical progression that started with the Strategic Advisory Group study of the borough with emphasis on the Union Hotel and the need for a theater, and includes the TerraNoble redevelopment concepts for six sites in the borough; and the Maser streetscape designs.

He and Fleisher are eager to find out what Flemington’s brand will turn out to be, but they would offer no guesses.

When Brooks and company are done, Flemington will have detailed directions to be followed by a brand implementation team, plus the logo and slogans (“marketing tag lines”) and an array of ideas for billboards, letterhead, wayfinding signage, print advertising, pole banners, website home page, and other elements of the “BrandGraphics Kit.”

Flemington will also have “a unique and powerful brand, which will engage the community, increase community pride and awareness of new opportunities, lead to more economic development opportunities and stronger business growth, increase the population, and enhance and increase local tourism and spending,” RBI promises.

Brooks’ fee, along with almost all of the BID budget, is funded by a special property tax on all commercial real estate and large apartment buildings.


Rick Epstein of the Hunterdon Democrat may be reached at Follow @njdotcom on Twitter. Find The Hunterdon County Democrat on Facebook.

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