On split vote, Antioch council hires firm for $95,000 branding and marketing effort

Five “Big Ideas” in Evviva Brands’ proposal to the City of Antioch.

Funding proposed by Thorpe, but votes against because he intended a public relations effort; second consultant hired by city for marketing

By Allen Payton

In response to the council’s approval of including $100,000 in this year’s budget for a marketing and branding effort for the city, staff recommended, and the City Council voted 3-1 at their Tuesday night meeting, to hire Evviva Brands, LLC of San Francisco. The company has worked with major corporations, such as Marriott Hotels, Alaska Airlines and Amazon, but has not worked with any cities. Evviva Brands proposal ACC 031318

That contract for $95,000 is in addition to a separate contract on the same meeting agenda, which increased the amount paid to the Lew Edwards Group, a communications and political campaign consulting firm based in Oakland. They have been handling the city’s community engagement through Facebook, a new, positive news website in addition to the city’s official website, and a new effort entitled “Join The Conversation.” The council agreed to increase that contract from $39,600 to $89,550.

According to their website, the principal consultant, Catherine Lew “has over three decades of experience in community organizing and politics. A veteran of more than 600 political campaigns, Lew has worked on behalf of political clients who include the California Democratic Party, Congresswoman Barbara Lee” and a variety of other Democrat politicians.  Lew Edwards Group contract ACC 031318

Before the meeting, members of the public expressed their concerns and outrage on Facebook about the company’s proposed five Big Ideas “that will have intrinsic media value,” specifically the third one which states, “Antioch will become the Gourmet Ghetto of cannabis cuisine.” Cannabis is another term for marijuana.

David Kippen of Evviva Brands provided a presentation to the council about his company’s proposed work for the city.

The first $25,000 of the contract will be spent on his company getting to know Antioch with interviews of residents and city staff.

“Antioch has a great story to share outside its borders, in fact inside its borders, too. If we can share it properly, it will have tremendously beneficial effects,” he said.

They will begin with listening in different parts of the city.

“On the basis of these listening sessions, working with a variety of organizations, there is a red thread…that speaks to ‘this is us, this is what we want to be known for,’” Kippen explained. “It will take about a month, but that will be the seed kernel for the marketing efforts…that we will build from.”

The firm will “Create a hierarchy of messages. There is an umbrella idea and sub-ideas from that,” he stated. “From there on it’s pretty much basic marketing…through channels you own and public relations.”

Councilman Tony Tiscareno was the first to comment and ask Kippen questions.

“I want to thank you for your quick summary,” he said. “What I’ve heard you bring a great resume to the city. The branding itself, I’m interested in who are we as a city. I think you have an idea of what you’ve seen so far of what Antioch is and who we are. No matter where you are in Antioch there still needs to be improvements, like other cities have the higher end shopping.”

“Who do you think we are?” Tiscareno asked. “We’ve been struggling for many, many years. Not much has changed except for in one area. We’ve tried different marketing techniques. We’re willing to try more.”

“It’s a great question,” Kippen responded. “I first came to Antioch in the late 1970’s. My father was commercial fisherman having his boat repaired on Al Seeno’s boat yard. I would have said it was a sleepy town. It was the land that time forgot.”

“The freeway…threatens to divide you. (some in the) community feel more connected to Oakley. A brand is ultimately a consensus. We can’t brand five or seven Antioch’s. As an outsider we can’t tell you what Antioch is. It would be presumptuous of me to assume what Antioch is.”

Thorpe Not Happy With Recommended Consultant

Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe asked Economic Development Manager Lizeht Zepeda how she “narrowed down the four finalists.”

“We had goals that were added in the request form,” she responded. “We did a rating sheet. This was myself and four other colleagues, separately. That scoring sheet dropped off the last two.”

Thorpe then asked, “What were the themes that would have created these four finalists?”

“Economic Development, the existence of jobs, the use of existing resources in the city, utilizing our strategic plans on our website,” Zepeda said. “They explained how they would assist with economic development in the city.”

Thorpe then said, “I’m kind of puzzled by that because this is a request for qualifications. Not necessarily what they were proposing.”

“Both,” she responded.

“But, you called it a request for qualifications,” he stated. “There was one that puzzled me of why it was in the finalists list. That concerns me of how that firm got to the finalists list and then was evaluated. Last we had Rolando Bonilla come here and set up this concept of earned media. You mentioned earned media as a small aspect. When you Google Antioch the earned media is not that good.”

Thorpe then asked Kippen, “Can you tell me about earned media…what other cities you’ve worked with?”

Kippen responded, “This was an RFQ, but it had RFP elements in it. We did reply as if it were an RFP. With respect to the media part of it, we are a brand marketing agency. We see two things, there isn’t a good integrated strategy in paid and earned media. We see a very, very light footprint, but the bad things, the crime…the person living on top of the train station. We focus on a disciplined strategy, with a media schedule…to generate the right kind of earned conversation.”

Thorpe then said, “we have some positive things happening in the city…the grant for the water. That’s a very positive story. Outside of the social media…who are the people going to believe, our social media or third-party validators?”

“What relationships do you have and are going to develop with our local media, here?” he asked.

Kippen said “we’re not a public relations agency. We don’t have a media Rolodex to call. If you’ve got a great story…within the framework…what the meta-story is all about. It doesn’t matter what Antioch says about itself, it’s what people say about Antioch. If it’s cannabis, or renewables…it’s about building the messages about Antioch.”

Thorpe then stated, “We have another consultant…doing some of that, as well. So, I’m a little puzzled. Within the community we have some challenges communicating with the residents. It’s not like selling a product. It’s a two-way process for communication. Can you tell me about building that?

Kippen said it’s “a difference between a brand position and a marketing position. Everybody here has bought in to being here. We can’t sell the sizzle. We have to sell the steak. We have worked with 18 different brands around the world. Just like Antioch every hotel is a place and space. The promises they’ve kept the promises they’ve broken. Each of them is telling…a truth. I see that as fundamental to any dialogue in marketing the city.”

Thorpe then spoke about “Crisis response. Another issue we tend to have is responding appropriately to crisis. I’m reminded of my friend Tim McCall when he says ‘When are you going to get out there and take a stand on crime?’ Would your firm be available 24-7 for crisis response?”

Kippen again stated, “We are not a public relations firm, we are a brand marketing firm,” and gave examples of crises the city might face. “A huge oil spill damages the land along the waterfront. A decrease or increase in the murder rate. Does that mean we’re going to be available at 2:00 in the morning? No. But, in the longer term, yes, that is something we would absolutely focus on.”

Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock was next to speak, saying “Just a couple things. I was looking at the working hand-in-hand when we get the new economic development director. What is the long term and short term?

“The contract is for a year, with a possible second year,” Kippen said. “The first thing is us getting smart. You have a lot of tentacles…of paid, owned and earned media in the community. A month-and-a-half to two months of us getting smart and formulating a strategy. I suspect what we’re going to find…today there wouldn’t be one Antioch but, three, five to eight views of Antioch. Also dialogue with city staff and with you guys of where are we going. For now, what do we choose to do. We can’t do everything. We have to be simple and clear as water. After that it’s more and more tactical.”

“Month three to month four we’ll have a massive set of media output,” he continued. “You’ll start to see a lot more unity in your materials. You’ll see community calendars starting to be aligned and promoted in a different way. Months five and six…streamlined and much more effective communications. The good thing about the current media landscape, almost everything leaves a footprint. You can think of it as a heat map. So, that hopefully when we get to about month nine, look, here is what we tried, here is what worked well…these are the adjustments we make for the next year…and plan for an even more impactful second year.”

Mayor Sean Wright offered his thoughts stating, “I’m very impressed with your company, very impressed with the way you do branding. One of my concerns when we asked of this from staff, what I was thinking was more of a P.R. Everything you’re saying, we need. If we go along with you…how do we (respond) as things happen in our community?”

Kippen responded with, “P.R. is almost always responsive. What we’re trying to do is shape the narrative. Those things are not incompatible. Nothing that is going to happen in the near term – barring an earthquake – will prevent us from establishing a narrative. We will be your once a week…how do we get in front of this. Most of our clients have branding firms, marketing firms and public relations firms they work with…the perfect triangle.”

Wright then said, “What you’re offering and what you’re bringing is something our community needs.”

Public Comments

Antioch Economic Development Commissioner Tim McCall was only one of two people speak to the council about the issue and wanted them to wait on hiring the consultant.

“I appreciate the shout out from Vice Mayor Thorpe and it’s really good to know you hear me. Tonight, I’m feeling a little more sure of the marketing game plan. But, I’m asking you to wait. I don’t know where we are with the economic development director. But, I think we need to have the marketing plan shaped by him. There needs to be a continuity. I’ve been waiting for a punch line to come through and reading some of the materials from the staff report…on the page listed as Big Ideas, on page 13, bullet item three it states, ‘Antioch will become the Gourmet Ghetto of Cannabis Cuisine. I’d like to see that taken down quickly.’”

City Clerk Arne Simonsen wasn’t happy about that idea from the consultant, either.

“Speaking as myself, as a four-decades resident, it really bothered me that would be put in a report. This is not the message. And if this is something coming from this organization…if that is a thought I would really hate to see that as being a moniker for our city.”

Council Discussion & Decision

Thorpe responded defending the company including that third Big Idea in their proposal.

“In fairness to our friend here, I’m sure these are just concepts. Ideas they were just throwing out there,” he said. “So, I don’t think you were trying to say this is who I think you are.”

“So, what happens with the current marketing team?” Thorpe then asked of Zepeda.

“It will coincide,” she responded.

“So, that will continue. So, we will have two firms,” he stated.

Kippen then spoke to the issue of the two companies working for the city.

“We have a lot of experience working with diverse and segmented teams,” he said, suggesting they will “have a monthly meeting so we can have everyone be consistent” and an “editorial calendar.”

Responding to the concerns of McCall and Simonsen, Kippen said, “It’s just an idea for positioning. Not our idea for positioning. Apologies if it offended.”

Thorpe repeated that he was “still concerned…about earned media. It doesn’t matter how many videos or brochures we have for the city. If we don’t fix that perception by third-party validators…what we put out doesn’t matter as much as what other people say.”

“I’m not comfortable with this firm for that very reason,” he stated. “Nothing about your work product. I was looking for someone more experienced with cities…not Marriott, Google. I think we’re missing the boat on that one. So, I cannot support this.”

Wright then said, “On third-party validators, there’s a question here.”

Kippen then asked Thorpe, “Can you give me some examples of third-party validators?”

He responded, “I’m talking about media relations. What people are writing about us. They have more power than us. We have one marketing firm doing our Facebook and social media and then we have another firm doing Facebook and social media.”

Kippen responded, “I would put that professionally in the category of public relations. The focus on media relations. The big driver is what is in the Chronicle, the New York Times. I would say absent a direction…a clear story of what we want to be, in my professional opinion you’re going to be firefighting. You’re not shaping the story. Being responsive to what people say about us is less effective than shaping what is said about us. I don’t disagree with you, Councilmember Thorpe. But it’s not an either or.”

“I don’t disagree with you,” Thorpe said, then spoke again about “media relations, public relations…so that not only are they telling their own story but combating the crises. Here we are a finalist for this (grant, but it’s not a front page anywhere. That’s not the framework we set of why we wanted to do this in the first place.”

Tiscareno weighed in again saying, “I do appreciate all this dialogue. I knew that you were branding. This council has been advocating for marketing. Public perception and public relations is one thing. But, at this particular point for us to market and us to be prepared from a public relations standpoint, we need to have a set brand. So, I think we’re looking at a company that is an expert in one particular area, and that’s branding.”

“I’m torn,” he stated. “I wish we could do all at once. But, that’s a major cost factor. I’m frustrated…there hasn’t been a lot of changes to this community. We want to see this community change for the better. Not to say it hasn’t, isn’t changing for the better. I’d like to see us improve like the other cities…we’re lagging. I know we need to hire an economic development director. But, we need to get something going, now. I understand where Councilmember Thorpe is coming from. You’re more technical. I guess that’s a generational thing. I don’t play on Facebook as much.”

“We will market. Marketing is absolutely included,” Kippen explained. “What we’re not bidding on is public relations. The public relations guy is the one who has the friend in every news room. Every other element of marketing – the banner ads, the ads you’ve already bought – is in the scope of what we’re doing. So, we define the brand and promote that brand through those channels. “

“We’re investing quite a bit of money to promote this city,” Tiscareno stated. “We just need to know the money we’re going to spend, this state and this nation knows about Antioch. It’s not the cure all. We know that. We’re not going to change this city that we haven’t done in 40 years. We need to start somewhere. I’m willing to give you a try. If we decide to go forward with you, what kind of reports and updates that we will get?”

“I think you will get reports of what’s done,” Zepeda said.

“We’ve committed to report once a month,” Kippen stated. “Everything we’re doing will have a number behind it. You will see traction very soon. I don’t know where we’ll see it or what we’ll see. But I’m sure you’re going to be surprised.”

Ogorchock then said, “I understand it’s a marketing, branding but not a public relations firm.”

She then made a motion to approve the contract and it was seconded by Tiscareno.

Wright then said “the elephant in the room (is) Lamar has a firm that he believes can do all of that.”

Thorpe responded, “Lizeht assured me of that. Ron has assured me of that. If it’s a committee. That’s my very serious concern. Another concern, this is not the framework we had set. It doesn’t matter as a city if we brand ourselves. It doesn’t matter if the school district brands themselves. We already have a Facebook, social media, marketing firm on top of that. And we’re going to hire another firm on top of that. The branding component seems…to develop the branding, there’s some cookie cutter things that people do. It doesn’t have to cost this much.”

“I do have concerns about how we got to the four finalists because there’s one firm that shouldn’t have been in the finalists,” he reiterated. “I had requested the money for this. I had asked the council to take a leap of faith with me saying this is the direction we should take. It baffles me that this is the area we’re going into.”

But the rest of the council ignored Thorpe’s plea and approved the contract on 3-1 vote, with Thorpe voting against and Councilwoman Monica Wilson absent as she was out of state for the funeral of her grandmother.


the attachments to this post:

Evviva Brands 5 Big Ideas for Antioch

Evviva Brands proposal ACC 031318
Evviva Brands proposal ACC 031318

Lew Edwards Group contract ACC 031318
Lew Edwards Group contract ACC 031318

9 Comments to “On split vote, Antioch council hires firm for $95,000 branding and marketing effort”

  1. Nancy Fernandez says:

    Thank you Lamar. This is the most asinine expense I have seen Antioch make in years. We do not need PR people. We need the city cleaned up and presentable. No cars parked on lawns, no falling down fences, homeless who are being helped. Any number of things you could spend $100,000 on. More and more I want to move out of here after 50 years of my life. Consultants be damned. You waste too much money on consultants who have no clue.

    • Mike says:

      Why are you thanking Lamar Thorpe? He was only a “no vote” because city staff did not select his friends firm to do more marketing/pr vs. branding.

      If you recall, Thorpe was the one who proposed the allocation of the $100k in the first place for this type of consultant work.

      Sorry to burst your bubble, but its true.

  2. Concerned Antioch resident says:

    Spending $95,000.00 for FAKE news in hopes of revitalizing the city!?! Anyone remember the ferryboat fiasco (https://www.mercurynews.com/2011/12/16/antioch-ferryboat-saga-nears-end/) and other failed city-subsidized endeavors (Humphrey’s, Bases Loaded, etc.)? “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” It doesn’t matter how many surveys are done, until action is taken to effectively reduce crime and blight no “media spin” is going to improve Antioch’s image.

  3. RJB says:

    Antioch is so full of crap it’s almost hilarious.

    $100k to sugar coat and put lipstick and a wig on a pig.


  4. One more thing says:

    Antioch could be such a great town to attract new businesses. With the homeless and all those folks that moved here during the housing crisis, that will not happen. They all rule the roost it is so disheartening wherever you go. Safeway is a revolving door of free items just like they did in the other cities they once lived. Laws be damned. The driving rules are ignored. The homeless are on every corner. Same ones. Why?? You need something to brand before you can paint it a pretty picture. Antioch is the ghetto that these crappy transplanted residents were allowed to make it just like the places they used to call home.

  5. JAC says:

    We have lived here in Antioch for over 20 years and we have repeatedly watched the leaders of this city (city council) hire consultants whenever a serious has been identified. The city has paid out thousands of dollars to these consultants and after the consultants investigated the problems, identified the causes, and then presented an official report to the city with well-thought out step by step plans to resolve these problems, and these were solutions that many of the residents agreed with and had been shouting out the same or similar solutions to the city for years, and what does our city do?

    Instead of embracing the entire plan that has been presented to them, the city decides to cherry pick out a few small changes and then abandones remaining necessary changes. Keep in mind, the consultants were very clear to state that unless the city was willing to make a large majority of the changes suggested by these experienced evaluators, the city’s problems would continue to persist.

    And even with those warnings, the leaders of our city decided that they were smarter than the consultants and so they chose not believe the warnings from the consultants and went ahead cherry picked out a few of the least costly and very nominal changes contained in the consultant’s final report of recommendations and guess what happened? Yep, just like they had been warned time and time again, the changes were not significant enough to actually benefit those of us that live here. The problems never went away and, in fact, in most of the cases, the problems just got worse.

    For those of you who are not familiar with our city’s obsession to hire consultants for hundreds of thousands of dollars and then, when the consultants inform our city’s leaders what changes need to be made in order to effect positive growth for our community and those of us who live here, and then our city’s repeated refusals to follow the plans that have been presented to them, just conduct a little research on the problems that have going on down at our City’s Animal Shelter for years. Look at the history of consultancy work that the city paid in an attempt to fix all of the problems going on inside those four walls. You will learn quite quickly that our city just likes to spend lots of money to have someone else find rational solutions to the problems that exist here, and they simply say, “Nah, were not going to do all of those things, we’ll go ahead and make a couple of the recommended changes and see what happens after that.”

    Our city is too afraid of fully committing itself to the idea that what is needed here is the implementation of real significant changes, changes that shake people up and wake people up. But, honestly, I wouldn’t count on anything like happening here.

  6. Theresa says:

    Crazy, why? We need to clean up Antioch before we try and get others to visit. We have new homeless camps in the trail behind Lowes. Take care of this shit first. We dont need PR.

  7. RJB says:

    There’s no place like Antioch.

    Gotta loooove ghetto Antioch!

  8. Jimmy Strudel says:

    There should be a documentary on how the city of Antioch has failed its citizens over the years. How on earth did we get to where we are today with the crime, section 8, homeless, Oakland thug infestation? The citizens need to take back Antioch and make it great again.

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