The San Antonio Economic Development Foundation (SAEDF) is leading a branding movement aimed at unifying the various components that define what it means to be San Antonian.

The foundation is targeting Millennials as it hopes to attract more young professionals to the city through a clear, cohesive brand. But some City Council members, briefed on the initiative at Wednesday’s B session, felt the campaign should broaden its focus beyond Millennials to best represent our diverse, growing, historic city.

SAEDF President and CEO Jenna Saucedo-Herrera and Board Chairman Wayne Peacock both said the branding movement is designed to help define a “brand essence,” reflect who San Antonians are as a community, and what they aspire to be collectively.

“We’re still looking for that elusive way to describe San Antonio, and do it in a consistent way,” Peacock told the Council.

According to Peacock and Saucedo-Herrera, a working group helped identify Millennials and young professionals as the target audience around which to craft the brand essence. From there, SAEDF could help broaden the brand to all parts of the community.

San Antonio Economic Development President Jenna Saucedo-Herrera explains the potential of downtown San Antonio. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.
San Antonio Economic Development Foundation President Jenna Saucedo-Herrera explains the potential of downtown San Antonio. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

“As a native San Antonian, this effort is extremely real to me, and I’m extremely passionate about it,” Saucedo-Herrera said.

SAEDF is working with local stakeholders to form a concise description and corresponding image that reflects the city’s brand essence and appeals to the target demographic.

Stakeholders range from USAA and several chambers of commerce to the Pearl and industrial advocacy groups such as BioMed SA and Tech Bloc.

Peacock and Saucedo-Herrera said these stakeholders and other local organizations and businesses have successfully marketed San Antonio in their own ways.

But they added that, with an expanding population and the coming Tricentennial celebrations in 2018, now is the time to align these marketing messages and build consensus around a united brand to have a greater collective impact.

The unveiling of SOLD at Frank brought dozens of tech people from the San Antonio and Austin area. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.
The unveiling of SOLD at Frank brought dozens of tech people from the San Antonio and Austin area. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

“As a marketing professional, I’ve been trained to understand that brand and culture are synonymous,” Saucedo-Herrera said, adding that a brand essence must be more than a simple tagline or logo.

Saucedo-Herrera noted several creative concepts – based on data collected from locals and visitors – around which San Antonio’s brand essence could be centered. “Authenticity,” “rich history,” “diverse culture,” “enterprising,” “innovative,” and “genuine optimism” were just a few of said descriptors.

Following the formation of the open source toolkit, SAEDF would formally launch a campaign around the agreed-upon brand essence.

The creation of an online open source library containing branding movement materials – such as messages and images – accessible for cross-promotion and partnership opportunities also is in the works.

SAEDF would encourage organizations and agencies such as Visit San Antonio, Centro San Antonio and the San Antonio International Airport to follow suit with campaigns that are designed for their target audiences, but that also aligned with the overarching brand essence.

Centro San Antonio recently launched a rebranding campaign for downtown. Visit San Antonio, the reimagined Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), which is transitioning from a City department to an independent nonprofit organization, held its first annual meeting in its new format this week.

Mayor Ivy Taylor and City Council members applauded the overall initiative, but some members persisted in asking why Millennials were the target audience. Saucedo-Herrera responded that, as a Millennial, she would want to be able to relate to a specific unified brand.

“We’d want to see ourselves reflected in a brand,” she said.

Councilman Ray Lopez (D6) said he hopes to see a tangible result from the brand essence initiative, more specifically that it helps make the city more attractive to businesses.

While Lopez acknowledged that young professionals make up a growing part of the city’s future workforce, he questioned how a brand targeting Millennials could translate into luring top executives and investor-class individuals.

Councilman Alan Warrick (D2) echoed Lopez’s sentiment, hoping for something tangible from the campaign.

“That’s what I’m looking to get out of this process, something that says ‘We are … fill in the blank,’” he added.

The idea is to formulate an overall brand and message, Saucedo-Herrera said, and then tailor it to specific audiences, such as investors and corporate executives, by highlighting local assets that make for a worthwhile business climate. Peacock added that the SAEDF website will be revamped in January to detail those assets.

“What we’re talking about today is how do we get to the heart of the matter – who we are and what we hope to be,” Peacock said.

The brand essence’s overall goal, he said, is to encourage San Antonians, especially newcomers, to participate in the city’s future.

“(San Antonio) is a place where you can have an impact,” he added.

Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) voiced concern that San Antonio may lack aspects that are important to Millennials.

She recalled attending an event where many young professionals pointed out desirable community elements, such as walkability, urbanism, and affordability. San Antonio still has work to do when it comes to fulfilling some of the criteria Millennials value, she said.

“We can’t create a brand that we really aren’t,” Gonzales said.

Saucedo-Herrera referred to Millennials as a “common denominator” in what stakeholders rate highly when creating a brand essence.

“At the end of the day, that’s the brand we have to live up to,” she said.

The Maverick Music Festival attracted hundreds of attendees to the La Villita stages. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
The Maverick Music Festival attracted hundreds of attendees to the La Villita stages. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

Councilman Mike Gallagher (D10) said he could see how the campaign aims to help lure more members from a particular demographic – in this case, Millennials – to San Antonio. As an Air Force retiree, he considers himself an example of someone who found an ideal “place to work, live, and play” upon moving to San Antonio.

City Manager Sheryl Sculley said the initiative updates San Antonio’s overriding message and image “with all our partners at the table.” Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) also commended the effort to be all-inclusive with partnerships and stakeholders.

“I think it’s overdue,” he said. “We’ve been selling our city, but behind closed doors.”

Councilman Cris Medina (D7) said he is heartened by seeing a community-wide effort at branding the city, but that continued discussions are critical.

“I think we’re moving in a fruitful direction,” he said.

An architect by trade, Councilman Roberto Trevino (D1) said he hopes other sectors of the community, such as architects, will be included into discussions on how a brand essence could reflect and further the built environment.

“I think we have to extend this conversation to some of those groups that are making an impact on how this city is developing,” he said.

One well-established slogan for San Antonio – “City on the Rise” – does not thoroughly reflect the community’s evolution and potential because it implies San Antonio progressed “from the bottom,” said Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3).

“I believe San Antonio was already great,” she said, adding that it is vital for a brand to be authentic and genuine in recruiting newcomers, convincing former San Antonians to return home, and persuading current residents to stay.

“I think everyone is eager to see the end point of this,” Mayor Taylor said.

Peacock and Saucedo-Herrera told the Rivard Report after the meeting that the brand essence initiative should not conflict with current or new marketing campaigns from local businesses, industries, and organizations.

“We want to create an overarching envelope, or umbrella, that all of us can connect to and participate in,” Peacock said. “I don’t think of it as an SAEDF activity, but rather something we’re facilitating for the community to create that broader umbrella for all of us.”

The brand essence campaign also will act as a lead-in to the Tricentennial celebrations, Saucedo-Herrera said.

“That was an incentive for all of us to get together and better align our efforts,” she said.

Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.