Vernon considers ways to market itself

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:53

    VERNON-You don't serve on a municipal council without having some pride in your community, and Janet Morrison's was wounded. Vernon Township's deputy mayor was talking with a legislator from another nearby community about their respective towns. "Vernon has everything going for it except the name recognition," the other legislator said. "You don't have the prestige of our name." Morrison told the story on Monday's council meeting and declined to say which town her fellow official came from, but it wasn't hard to guess. "Warwick," guessed Councilman Phil Weiler, as all nodded in presumptive agreement. Morrison didn't confirm the guess, but it made sense. Warwick, which abuts Vernon's northern border on the New Jersey-New York state line, has done an impressive job of branding itself as tourist destination and center of everything quaint and bucolic. Vernon, which has two ski resorts, one of them run by an international leader in the industry, its own share of farms, and state and national parks east, west, and south, is just Vernon. At nearly every council meeting of late, members have talked about getting the word out about what the township is doing to its own citizens. Monday night, they talked about establishing Vernon as a brand name among New Jersey communities. What prompted the discussion was a presentation by a Collingswood firm, Eggz Inc., which specializes in helping towns identify themselves to their own citizens, the business community, the state and beyond, primarily through the Internet and direct-mail. The firm has contracts with Camden County and the Camden Waterfront ("A Bright Idea In Family Fun!"), and the New Jersey municipalities of Bridgeton ("A Bright New Beginning"), Collingswood ("It's Where You Want To Be"), Rutherford ("Where You're Always Welcome"), Neptune ("Where Community, Business & Tourism Prosper"), Keyport ("The Pearl of the Bayshore"), Gloucester City ("Where Great Things Are Happening!"), and Hamilton ("New Jersey's Shining Star"). Paul Autodore, an Eggz representative, had met previously with the Vernon Chamber of Commerce and with Township Manager Don Teolis, who was sufficiently impressed with what he saw to invite Autodore to give his multimedia demonstration to the council. The central message, as stated in the company's promotional brochure, is: "Breakthrough advertising is the power of a single brand message carefully crafted to live in people's memories. The medium is not the message. The brand is the message." The program Autodore outlined encompasses everything from a township Web site, a school Web site, on-line newsletters, targeted advertising in print, radio, television and direct mail, business recruitment, brochures, logos, slogans, data bases of all businesses in the town, Web hosting, and business-to-community promotions. "It's a tool for your community," said Autodore, who kept returning to the subject of establishing the town as a brand name. Morrison and the other members of the council were impressed. "You're approaching it as selling the town, but as helping members of the community sell the town," she said. "We have some tremendous assets to sell," said Mayor Ira Weiner, who noted that the township used to have an economic development commissioner but eliminated the position. Councilman Neil Desmond, a real estate salesman for Intrawest, the company building the Village at Mountain Creek, liked the idea of promoting the township's other businesses. "We need to set up businesses outside of Intrawest on a level playing field," he said. Actual prices weren't discussed, but Autodore said that the town can generate revenue by hosting Web sites that can be set up in less than a half hour by township businesses and by selling ads on its own site. He said grants from private foundations are available to help defray the cost of getting the system up and running. The council made no commitments, but asked Teolis to talk specifics with Autodore and report back at a later date.