Brookhaven’s Convention and Visitors Bureau is working with a $1.6 million budget this year to “build a brand strategy from the ground up” as the city tries to create a regional and national presence, according to city officials.

State Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta), who represents a portion of Brookhaven, said he understands the hotel-motel taxes that fund CVBs are to be spent for specific purposes, but questioned the amount on the small city’s tourism.

State Rep. Scott Holcomb.

“But $1.6 million is a lot of money,” he said. “The numbers seem out of whack. What I’m not a fan of is requiring money be spent because the law requires it be spent.”

Holcomb said he wants to take a closer look at the laws regulating hotel-motel taxes to determine if there are different ways the money could be spent or even change the law to allow for more flexibility of spending. “I wonder if this is the best use of taxpayer money or is there a need for greater flexibility,” he said.

Like all other CVBs, Brookhaven’s is funded through hotel-motel taxes. Brookhaven’s hotel-motel taxes have generated approximately $3.6 million over the past two years. State law requires hotel-motel taxes be spent on tourism and promotion.

Renee Areng, Brookhaven’s new CVB executive director, leads a volunteer board of directors tasked this year with funding a branding strategy for the city that will attract visitors to parks and events such as the Cherry Blossom Festival. The board recently hired Washington-based BrandStrategy Inc. for $116,000 and Zehender Communications, located in Louisiana and Nashville, Tenn., for $700,000 to come up with that plan.

The city put out a request for proposal for marketing services and out of 16 applicants, the CVB board chose Zehender Communications, Areng said.

Renee Areng, executive director of the Brookhaven Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The advertising agency is responsible for logo creation, marketing services, digital ads, website development and optimization, public relations and social media.

There was no RFP for BrandStrategy Inc. because the company and its founder, Duane Knapp, are the “gold standard” when it comes to research and market analysis to inform development of a comprehensive marketing strategy, Areng said.

“This [BrandStrategy] was always going to be a separate effort,” she said. “This was who the board decided to go with. We did negotiate his proposal down.”

The $116,000 will cover expenses for the first three stages of BrandStrategy’s contract, to be finished by the end of this year. The three stages are: surveying hundreds of local residents, visitors, business owners, educators and other stakeholders about their perception of the city; create a promise of what the city is to visitors and to residents; and creating a “brand blueprint” on how to set the city apart from other communities.

The final phase, implementation of the branding, is to start in early 2020.

Clarification: Renee Areng said the Brookhaven CVB board vetted many organizations for destination brand strategy before asking two groups to submit proposals. The board then selected BrandStrategy Inc., she said, because its proposal involved the most communities: residents, business owners, visitors and frequent travelers.  

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.