Port Orchard branded by Debbie and Delilah

Debbie Macomber (center) helped to define a default brand for Port Orchard in 2009.  - Charlie Bermant
Debbie Macomber (center) helped to define a default brand for Port Orchard in 2009.
— image credit: Charlie Bermant

As Port Orchard attempts to show off its advantages, local leaders have sought to apply a “brand” to encourage tourism, attract new residents and improve the business climate. Efforts to develop such a brand continued throughout 2009 with no concrete result, but events during the year bestowed a somewhat accidental brand as the tangible counterpart of of a fictional small town.

That is to say, Port Orchard has become the personification of Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove.

Macomber, a best selling-author and Port Orchard resident, has written nine books set in Cedar Cove, which is a recognizable stand-in for Port Orchard.

To take advantage of this association, the town welcomed Cedar Cove Days in August, a celebration that blended elements of a literary festival, a knitting circle and a party, hosted by Macomber herself.

A tangential event to Cedar Cove Days ended up grabbing a lot of the headlines, when local radio personality Delilah Rene came up with the idea to paint the downtown area with fresh colors.

The event, similar to how a host tidies up the house in anticipation of important visitors, was judged a qualified success, with even many former critics conceding the new brighter downtown looked better than before.

As a result, Port Orchard became known as Macomber and Rene’s home town. And since both are in the romance business, the town earned a default reputation as a welcoming place for fans of modern love stories.

While Cedar Cove Days provided an organized way for Macomber fans to interact, her public visits Port Orchard in a steady trickle year round.

As for Rene, she has supplemented her existing restaurant with two new businesses, including the exclusive outlet for her new clothing line.

These unplanned occurrences will draw in Macomber and Rene fans, who will then spend money in local restaurants, hotels and stores.

Applying a deliberate brand to locations is a relatively new practice, and requires a delicate balance.

A brand can, in order of preference, generate positive interest, do nothing or have a negative effect.

For example, Leavenworth and Poulsbo, respectively, have succeeded in identifying themselves with German and Norwegian culture, which brings in visitors.

On the other hand, Washington State’s “Say WA” campaign drew immediate ridicule and was discarded, after spending $500,000 of development money.

Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Coreen Haydock Johnson is aware of how a brand can have the opposite of its intended effect.

She also sees it as a no-win situation, saying, “This is a tough job. No matter what you come up with, somebody won’t like it or they will think it’s stupid.”

For this reason, Johnson realizes that even a bad brand is worse than no brand at all.

“We aren’t going to do anything until we know we have the full support of the city and the community,” she said.

In October, the branding committee presented a proposal to the city centered around the slogan, “We saved a place for you.”

The city council did not address the matter until the Dec. 15 study session, and was not particularly impressed.

“I think they could have come up with something better,” said Mayor Lary Coppola. “I think we should scrap this and start over.”

As an example of a successful brand, Coppola cited Sausalito, Calif., across the bay from San Francisco, which calls itself, “The reason they built the (Golden Gate) Bridge.”

While Johnson is eager to leverage visits from Macomber fans, she thinks this appeal is limited.

“The branding of Port Orchard as Cedar Cove happened by default,” she said. “I’m not sure this is the best thing, since the audience is segmented.”

Johnson isn’t wedded to “We saved a place for you,” but feels it is broad enough to work.

“We heard from a lot of people about what they wanted,” she said. “This brand reflects the community, that we have room for people to do whatever they want — live, start a business or easily commute to Seattle or Tacoma.”

While branding was discussed at last week’s study session, Johnson was not contacted about the council’s position.

The branding discussion will continue in 2010. In the meantime, Debbie and Delilah fans are trickling in, incrementally adding to Port Orchard’s reputation as a romantic little waterfront town.

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