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A Brand New Pittsburgh: Branding A City

When Donald Trump said recently that he was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris, he played right into the Rust Belt region’s long-ago image as a dirty, industrial, steel town. Think the steel mill scene from 1978’s “The Deer Hunter.” Well, I can tell you, that image is dead.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and the Washington Post immediately called Trump out on this. And as a veteran economic development marketing professional, I wholeheartedly agree with both of them.

I can tell you this: the new Pittsburgh is truly “mighty” and “beautiful” – just like the city’s tourism slogan says, and that’s saying something.

Seriously. Spend three days in Pittsburgh. My family and I did just that over the Memorial Day weekend. We were looking for a quick getaway less than five hours from our home in Upstate New York. And with little-to-no expectations, we had a blast.

PNC Park, where MLB’s Pittsburgh Pirates play, was recently ranked the No. 3 ballpark in the US by USA Today, behind only No. 1 San Diego and No. 2 San Francisco. All three have amazing views, and the fact that Pittsburgh’s ballpark overlooks downtown, the renowned Roberto Clemente Bridge (formerly Sixth Street Bridge), and the Allegheny River makes it an awesome fan experience. 

Pittsburgh PNC Park

The Pirates are also fortunate in that they have a marketing team that knows how to appeal to young Millennials and Gen Z – those all-powerful tween-agers and teenagers that, as Adweek recently noted, are every consumer brand’s new target audience obsession.

My 11-year-old daughter, Gracie, whipped out her iPhone to take pictures soon after the game started and was delighted to find the team’s Snapchat filters, complete with Pirates ball caps. Snaps and screenshots galore, needless to say. Add in the fact that the team shared the players’ Snaps and Stories on the big screen throughout the game, and Gracie, son Jack, husband Mike and I were hooked.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were no slouches, either. A #LetsGoBucs photo contest was promoted all game long – nothing new for sports teams, of course, but still a workhorse marketing tactic. Add in Instagram’s default black and gold hearts while in the ballpark, and we were filled with glee.

Click here to read How to Attract Customers with Facebook

Which brings me to branding – in this case, destination branding. Black ‘n Gold. They’re synonymous with Pittsburgh and have been since the city’s charter more than 200 years ago.

In fact, Pittsburgh is the only city where all three major sports teams wear the same colors. The NFL’s Steelers (six-time Super Bowl champs), the NHL’s Penguins (2016 Stanley Cup champs and 2017 finalists), and the MLB’s Pirates all wear black and gold.

The fact that this color scheme was done on purpose – the Pirates switched colors in 1948 and the Penguins switched in 1980 – makes it even more awesome. Talk about long-term vision.

And it’s not just sports teams. The city’s seal is comprised of three gold coins on black. Its iconic Three Sisters bridges – named for Pittsburghers Andy Warhol and Rachel Carson, in addition to Clemente – are all painted yellow. The fact that residents even thought about painting them different colors a couple of years ago makes me, as a marketing professional, shudder. Thank goodness they’re still, as they say, “Pittsburgh yellow.”

But colors are only one aspect of the city’s brand, of course. Ultimately, a truly great brand is rooted in emotion. How does it make you feel?

Championship sports teams are incredible for a city, as anyone knows. But add in seven major colleges and universities, top-notch arts and cultural experiences with the twin Carnegie Museum of Natural History and Carnegie Museum of Art, the Andy Warhol Museum, and National Aviary; vibrant restaurants and bars in a walkable downtown; a mean craft beer scene, including Church Brew Works, housed in a historic Roman Catholic church; a beer museum on the way; healthcare and greentech jobs in abundance; and, lest we forget, three rivers, and Pittsburgh’s brand is shining bright.

Our GenX/GenZ family was won over completely. And that’s saying something – because I’ve been to Paris.


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