Sandusky, Ohio’s PR challenge

1849658501pLet’s suppose for a moment that your name is Daniel J. Kaman. For the past seven years, you’ve been president of the city commission of Sandusky, Ohio. During that time, you’ve no doubt had to deal with all the things city commissions deal with: taxes, infrastructure, tourism and attracting business to the city. Then, in the waning months of your seven-year term, boom! The earth, the moon and the sky itself suddenly fall on your shoulders. Your city’s name is front and center, day-in and day-out, right smack in the middle of the year’s uber crisis: The Penn State University scandal.

Can you imagine a worse image and reputation challenge? How do you deal with the fact that your city’s name is now synonymous with one of the worst alleged pedophiles in American history? What do you do?

I’d suggest several options for Mr. Kaman and the city commission’s consideration:
-    Ignore the crisis completely. Your terms end on 12/31/11. Let the incoming commission deal with the image and reputation fallout.
-    Call together the best image and branding minds in the city, county and state and brainstorm new and different ways to position the city’s outbound marketing.
-    Change the city’s name. This is a big deal though since, in 2018, Sandusky, Ohio, will mark its 200th anniversary.

I’d opt for the third choice if I were in Mr. Kaman’s shoes. Like it or not, his city’s name creates insurmountable business challenges. To wit:
-    Can you imagine some Mid-West husband shouting upstairs to his wife, “Hey honey, let’s bring the kids to Sandusky this summer!” Just placing the words Sandusky and kids in the same sentence sends shivers up and down this blogger’s spine.
-    Or, how about a CFO and risk manager making this recommendation to their CEO: “Sir, we’ve conducted our due diligence and made our choice. We believe it’s in the best interests of Moed, Moed & Birkhahn to move our corporate offices to Sandusky, Ohio. Yes sir, we’re aware that Jerry Sandusky is the Jack the Ripper of modern times, but we believe the tax breaks and local community environment outweigh the fallout we’d receive from every one of our constituent audiences.”

The city has to change its name. But, they can do so in a smart and strategic way.

I’d counsel Commissioner Kaman to involve Sandusky’s citizens in the name change exercise. Create a microsite that is linked to the city’s website and invite local kids, parents and seniors to contribute names. Or, maybe Kamen is a revenue-driven guy and decides, instead, to approach a technology or Web 2.0 company and offer his city’s naming rights for, say $1 million? Maybe Sandusky, Ohio, becomes, Ohio? I have to believe those Godaddy types would love this sort of negative buzz.

Whatever he does, I do hope Mr. Kaman does something. The name Sandusky will be forever linked in the minds of Americans to pedophilia, cover-up and disgrace. And, what city wants to have to deal with that albatross when trying to market itself?

4 thoughts on “Sandusky, Ohio’s PR challenge

  1. Of course the city should change its name. I stumbled on this article after I noticed someone wrote on Facebook that they are from Sandusky, OH. I thought that was funny and possibly a joke. When I learned there actually is a place, I googled “Sandusky Ohio name change” because I was sure a name change must be in the works.

    The fact is Jerry Sandusky has branded the Sandusky name forever whether city residents like it or not. No amount of rebranding is going to change its meaning. Sometimes that happens.

    I know people with the last names Crapp, Fink, Dick, and Slutsky. No matter what they do, I still think about how ridiculous their names are and how they go through unnecessary mocking by keeping them. Would a town or person keep the name Hitler? Of course not. Even Stalingrad changed its name. It’s time Sandusky residents wised up and made the change for the good of everyone there.

    P.S. One member of the Crapp family changed his name to Capp. He was the smart one!

  2. I don’t think Sandusky, Ohio needs to change its name. It had the name first. The alleged pedophile should change HIS name. If Penn State was part of the Catholic Church, they would just shuffle Mr. Sandusky to a different school in a different state.

  3. Thanks Laura. Perhaps. But, if nothing else, Sandusky will change the wording on all of its branded merchandise; something along the lines of: ‘Visit Sandusky. No not that one!’

  4. I certainly agree that this is something that Commissioner Kaman cannot ignore. However, I think changing the name of the city is unnecessary. The area has roots dating back to the mid-1700s, to me it seems like the better bet would be to get together the best branding minds to see how to move forward. When I hear “Sandusky, Ohio,” I think of Cedar Point–it’s Penn State that should be much more concerned with that name.