Rave about Lightfoot’s “authenticity” and call her “the ultimate representative of the city of Chicago”. he said Quig “It is my job to highlight your strengths, your complexity as a person and as the mayor of our city.”
“Really?” I thought his job was to mend Chicago’s shattered image at home and abroad. It will take tremendous creativity and focus to destroy the city’s growing reputation as a hotbed of violence, crime, and corruption.
When I spoke to Fassnacht this week, he assured me that the city’s branding strategy was not intended to improve the mayor’s image.
“The city’s brand is much, much bigger than the mayor,” he said. “But the mayor is part of it.”
Fassnacht did not disclose details of Lightfoot’s planned role in various promotional gambits in the City Hall works. He explained that the city is not planning a traditional marketing flash that coats the media with a catchy slogan, but rather a series of discreet events that aim to build a positive image over time.
“It is a long way to go” to build a city’s brand, he said.
With the city facing a massive budget deficit, there is no money to buy airtime for television commercials or billboard advertising. Instead, Fassnacht relies on “earned media”, which speak for staged events and activities that generate positive press coverage. There are plans for events tied to Halloween, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas and New Years Eve.
Regardless of the format, Fassnacht clearly sees Lightfoot as a trademark.
“I wouldn’t do my job if I didn’t use her,” he said, again praising Lightfoot’s “authenticity” and noting her status as the city’s first openly lesbian black woman mayor.
This type of talk raises questions about whether the branding campaign is as much about showcasing Lightfoot as it is the city. Yes, it plays an important role in conveying important information to the city, such as the importance of social distancing and wearing masks during a pandemic. But administrators can turn public service messages into not-so-subtle political items by positively portraying the personal qualities of an elected official.
Remember that three minute YouTube video in which an apparently homebound Lightfoot urges Chicagoans to “stay home and save lives”. The expertly crafted piece shows many sides of Lightfoot, all of which are flattering. There’s the cool “analyst” who explains that data shows social distancing stops the spread of viruses and the playful “baker” who says “Stay Home!” in flour the straightforward “voice of reason” that tells friends not to dye their roots or paint toenails, the frustrated “beginner” struggles to learn the guitar.