Marketing Houston's "Coolness" in New Campaign to Draw People With Big Brains to the City

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Photo by Aaron Reiss
An iPad captures what Houston means to this woman.
Standing among NRG Stadium's club seats, in front of guests and media in an almost entirely empty arena, Paul Hobby couldn't help making a football analogy.

"When you have the lead, what do you do?" the Greater Houston Partnership chairman asked. "You run up the score."

In 2012 Forbes named Houston America's Coolest City. In 2013 the magazine called Houston America's Next Great Global City. GHP is ready to add the missing pieces to stoke the city's fire -- a fire GHP hopes can be "limitless." At least according to its new ad campaign.

GHP unveiled a new branding for Houston Tuesday at NRG Stadium whose goal is to bring "knowledge workers" --- skilled employees like engineers and scientists --- to Houston's ten-county region.

Bringing those people, according to Jamey Rootes, a GHP board member and the president of the Houston Texans, will require changing outsiders' perceptions of Houston. GHP is calling Houston "The City With No Limits," and is marketing the city's coolness, not its economy.

"I think we all understand that the perception of Houston doesn't meet the reality we know it to meet," Rootes said.

Hence the new branding campaign. Houston-based MMI Agency and Austin-based Avalanche Consulting conducted the research and developed the creative elements for the campaign, which includes the hashtag #HoustonNoLimits. According to Rootes, the two companies' research found that people decide whether they'd like to live in a city before looking into a city's employment opportunities.

That explains the campaign's two-minute primary promotional video, which focuses on Houston's neighborhoods and attractions -- from Discovery Green to The Heights to Texans games.

Photo by Aaron Reiss
Marion, left, and Rootes, answer questions from the media.
The campaign will also include profile advertisements of different Houstonians, a play on the idea that everyone has a different story. A few of these were hung in the NRG Stadium hallways, and attendees were invited to pose in front of a white screen to take a photo after they picked the Houston-centric magnets that suited them. ("Lawyer" was one of the magnets. Maybe that's why people don't think Houston is cool.)

"Anyone who is out to promote the city is a partner in this," said MMI founder Cindy Marion.

Starting in 2015, Marion said, advertisements, both on television and in print, and social media campaigns will be strategically placed in towns that can't support the college graduates entering them. She didn't specify locales.

The beauty of the campaign, Marion said, is that it requires no positive spins, just proliferation of information about "a Houston that is ready to get recognition."

"We don't have to stretch the message," Marion said.

And if all goes according to plan, Houston will be welcoming new residents. But don't worry -- the city won't have to stretch its resources; they're "limitless," after all.

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