More than a decade after cities, states and other government entities entered the world of municipal marketing, the results are decidedly mixed.

While some cities have inked mutually beneficial partnerships that provide value for residents and help fill city coffers, others have struggled to move beyond vending rights and advertising deals.

But some cities are finding success: The City of Miami Beach recently teamed with Destination Brands International, LLC on a licensing deal for a sunscreen brand marketed under the Miami Beach name. The product will be sold through Bed, Bath & Beyond, CVS and other national chains.  

The licensing agreement follows a 10-year, $3.72 million contract between the City of Miami Beach and Florida Coca-Cola Bottling Co. in 2012.

Other cities are finding success using public-private partnerships to offset expenses. The City of San Diego saved roughly $500,000 in vehicle leasing costs as a result of a partnership with Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., which provides trucks and other vehicles for city lifeguards.  

While public/private partnerships can be mutually beneficial, municipalities face several significant hurdles in getting programs up and running. Those include the following: 

  • Gaining buy-in from government officials and the public
  • A Reluctance by marketers to use the RFP bidding process
  • The lack of dedicated staff to manage relationships 

The ever-changing political landscape can also jeopardize deals. The City of San Diego put its sales efforts on hold last year following the sexual harassment scandal around then-mayor Bob Filner.

“We didn’t want to pitch anyone because there was a lot of negativity,” said Natasha Collura, the City of San Diego’s director of strategic partnerships.

Cities Continue To Explore Opportunities
Despite the challenges, cities and other government entities continue to explore opportunities in the muni marketing space. 

“We have seen an inflow of queries from cities, transit systems and other entities looking for help in identifying assets and establishing fair market value,” said Dan Kowitz, executive vice president of IEG Consulting.

The City of Glendale, Arizona is one of the newest entrants in the world of municipal marketing. The city is finalizing an RFP for a sponsorship agency after gaining approval from the mayor and city council last month. The agency will be charged with identifying and packaging sponsorship assets. 

The city plans to explore marketing opportunities around bus shelters, recycling trucks, its web site and other assets, said Julie Watters, the City of Glendale’s interim director of communications.

One key driver behind the program: The influx of travelers for the 2015 Super Bowl and 2016 college football playoff championships. Both events will be held at University of Phoenix Stadium.

“A lot of people will be coming to Glendale over the next two years. We need to look for opportunities that will get sponsor’s attention.”

Arlington Parks and Recreation Gains Traction  
The City of Arlington Parks & Recreation Department last year launched a sponsorship program to generate a new revenue stream. The department has a $25 million annual budget, roughly 50 percent of which comes from enterprise funds.  

“Our goal is 100 percent cost recovery,” said Gary Packan, assistant director of the City of Arlington Parks and Recreation Department.

The department last year hired S&B Visionary Marketing to secure partnerships that will increase revenue and/or decrease expenses.

While the parks and recreation department has sold sponsorship to Light Up Arlington, Cinco de Mayo and other events, it is looking for new assets to exploit as part of the new sponsorship push. Potential assets include exposure on hiking trails to branded content on the department’s social media platforms.  

The parks and recreation department is negotiating its first major partnership with Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital. The package includes status as the department’s health and wellness partner, branding on park trails and health-related content on the department’s Facebook page.

On-site signage will promote the sponsor’s connection to a healthy lifestyle, said Packan.

“We’re not just offering blank slate advertisements. We need to tie in our mission and vision as well.”

Inside San Diego’s Evolving Sponsorship Program
The City of San Diego—one of the pioneers in the municipal marketing space—works with a handful of companies ranging from Sprint Communications, Inc., San Diego Metropolitan Credit Union and its newest partner—Service Line Warranties of America.

SLWA uses the tie to promote water and/or sewer service line warrantees to homeowners for the portion of lines that are the responsibility of homeowners.

The partnership gives SLWA status as the preferred service line warranty partner of the City of San Diego. The company promotes the status and the city’s official logo in mailings to San Diego residents.

The deal represents San Diego’s first partnership with a direct mail company, said Collura, noting the city conducted due diligence on SLWA prior to entering the partnership.

SLWA is paying the city a $242,000 rights fee over the three year contract.  

San Diego’s strategic partnership department is working with other departments to develop a menu of assets it can offer to potential partners. 

For example, the department secured WAXIE Sanitary Supply as a sponsor of Dare to Reuse, a program managed by the City of San Diego Environmental Services Department. The exhibition—held at the New Children’s Museum—highlighted art made from recycled material.

WAXIE underwrote signage and display material and hosted a reception for the winners of the exhibition.

“We want to learn about what other departments are doing so that we can generate revenue to fund those programs.”

Other cities are working with environmental service partners on sponsorship programs. The City of Huntington Beach last year partnered with contract waste hauler Rainbow Environmental Services to install and sell ads on recycling containers. Rainbow sells the advertising space, with the city receiving a cut.

The city has generated $8,000 since rolling out the program and expects to earn roughly $25,000 to $30,000 once it is fully up and running, said Simone Slifman, the City of Huntington Beach’s economic development project manager.