Mayor Michael O’Connor announced plans Monday to stop using a city of Frederick logo that was recently unveiled as part of the city’s branding program.
Since its unveiling, the logo has been subject to scrutiny among both officials and residents in the area.
“Based on the feedback we received, we are not going to use the logo component of our branding process,” O’Connor said at a press conference Monday morning. “We are taking it out of circulation and we are moving as fast as we can to pull back.”
The branding campaign was conceived by the Jacksonville, Florida-based branding and marketing firm North Star, which was paid $45,000 for its efforts to help bring change to Frederick’s aesthetics. At the press conference Monday, O’Connor expressed regret for the way the branding process has been handled thus far.
“This was certainly not the goal we had when this started out,” he said. “It’s important to talk about what we can still achieve with this branding initiative.”
O’Connor said a new logo would not be in the works.
“We’re not going to have a new logo for the city of Frederick because we don’t need a new logo for the city of Frederick,” he said.
Rather than relaunch the search for a logo, O’Connor explained that the city of Frederick seal will be recognized as the “defining visual identity” of the city moving forward. Until now, he argued, the seal was not viewed as such and he believes that the confusion was an element of the disconnect that created the outcry against the new logo.
“Our intention was never to get rid of the city seal,” he said. “I think we could have done a better job using the city seal, and I think we know that now as the visual cue for the things we do. Our challenge as this process moves forward is, how do we take what we already have and build off it? Not replace it, but to build on it and really have it be the key visual identifier for the city of Frederick.”
More than a handful of residents turned out to City Hall on Monday morning to attend the briefing, as about half the boardroom’s seats were filled. Some asked questions, while others voiced their support for the mayor’s decision.
One, Peter Samuel, said he hoped the mayor and Board of Aldermen would now turn their attention to more pressing matters.
“I think he made the right decision,” Samuel said, adding that he also believes O’Connor was sincere about his comments focusing on the value of public engagement. “I can see a case for getting a new logo, but I also don’t think a logo is very urgent right now, and it shouldn’t be a priority. At this point, it would be politically unwise for the mayor to push on with a new logo process.”
O’Connor reminded those in attendance that he never thought the backlash would be as intense as it was. The work by North Star continues to be valuable to the city, he reiterated, as it looks forward with its rebranding efforts, which include the mantra “Join the story.”
Outside of the logo and the catchphrase, however, the question of tangible results from the $45,000 paid to North Star remained up for discussion as the mayor explained other effects the branding effort will have on the city.
“I think the tangible things that we will see will come out of the development of consistent letterhead, for example,” O’Connor said. “We want consistency. ... In rolling back the new logo, we have to take a look at how we develop the templates and look at the departments and all those kinds of things. North Star, as part of the work they did, provided us with a lot of that groundwork, which in and of itself is an extraordinary task.”
Debra Brewer, who was part of one of the early focus groups aimed at weighing in on what the logo should look like, said she believes the blame for the misstep should not fall on the mayor, but rather on North Star.
“I’m a little disappointed no one spoke up in his defense,” Brewer said, referring to O’Connor. “I think he was very gracious in his comments and I think North Star were really the ones who failed us.”
Ginny Walthour, senior account director for North Star, argued that the debate regarding the logo comes down to taste.
“Creative ideas attract opinions — this is their strength,” Walthour said late Monday afternoon. “After much listening and immersion, we achieved alignment with city leaders on objectives, character, preferences and future opportunities for the narrative of Frederick. We stand by the integrity of our work, which has helped more than 200 communities across the country best tell their story and become more competitive.”
As for what happens next, Alderman Roger Wilson said after the briefing that while he felt the next steps concerning the branding process were a little unclear, he hopes the city can move on from this to address other issues in Frederick.
“I appreciate that the mayor is not moving forward with the logo,” Wilson said. “But now I would like to refocus on priorities like housing policies and sidewalks and other things that need to be addressed.”
Alderman Ben MacShane said the logo process as a whole indicated the city did not have its priorities in line.
“The most important decision that needed to be made was to discontinue the logo, so in that sense, the most important box was checked,” Alderman Ben MacShane added. “I believe that some of the frustrations with the logo and branding process boiled over so significantly because the process and the expenditure was simply an example of poor prioritization. I believe that the city needs to continue to make significant progress on other important issues in order to fully overcome that dissatisfaction.”
The mayor, meanwhile, was committed to contrition in his response to the circumstances.
“Clearly this process has not gone well, and I apologize for that,” he said. “I wanted to believe that the things we were trying to accomplish could be done the way it was laid out, and obviously, that hasn’t happened. I wish I could roll back the clock and start this process all over again and include the community in some important points in this process, where that temperature check really would have brought some great value. But I didn’t, and here we are.
“So,” he added, “we are going to move forward in the best way I think I know how.”