Updated, 8:20 p.m.: More information.
NORWALK, Conn. — No one’s traveling, but never mind: The Common Council has hired a firm to promote Norwalk as a tourism destination.
The forward-looking goal is to “create an overarching and distinctive identity for Norwalk as a great place to explore, dine, shop, play, stay, and even beyond that, to live, work, start a business,” Tod Kallenbach of the City’s new marketer Dornenburg Kallenbach Advertising (DKA) said at a recent Council meeting.
Dornenburg Kallenbach is being paid $100,000 for the one-year tourism contract and has also been hired by the Norwalk Parking Authority to perform City-wide marketing in a separate $100,000 contract. Capital funds are being used for the tourism effort while the city-wide marketing bills will be paid by the Parking Authority, not by taxpayer dollars, as an expansion of Norwalk Now, which was formerly dedicated to South Norwalk. Norwalk Now has been renamed Visit Norwalk and the $100,000 has been part of the Parking Authority’s budget since 2017, Norwalk Communications Manager Josh Morgan said Monday.
Having the same firm handle both initiatives will “integrate the two efforts very seamlessly so that our small businesses aren’t missing out on the tourism aspect of, you know, being a business in Norwalk,” said Director of Business Development & Tourism Sabrina Church.
Dornenburg Kallenbach was awarded the Norwalk Now contract in August and the tourism contract last month.
‘None of that stuff’
If you’ve heard a little grumbling recently about the City hiring a “full-time tourism director” just before the pandemic and keeping the director on the payroll during the shut down, you may be confused: Church was appointed to lead a City department created in the reorganization two years ago, for business development and tourism.
Church was an intern for the Redevelopment Agency for two years, from 2015 to 2017 and then was hired full time, Norwalk Communications Manager Josh Morgan said. She became the City’s Director of Business Development and Tourism in August 2019.
“Obviously, due to the pandemic, there have been travel restrictions and limitations on events and gatherings. As such, a majority of Sabrina’s work has been focused on supporting our local businesses. She has been connecting businesses to state and federal resources, helping with grant applications, and serving as a main point of contact to answer a variety of questions from business owners,” Morgan said Monday.
“I was handed this position with a totally new department, which is amazing,” Church said in November. “So I’ve had to kind of ride my own wave, build up my own materials and you know, start from scratch and really try to hit the ground running as best as I can to help as much as I could.”
This is her first season to have capital budget funds to spend and the tourism initiative her first project, she said. It was “super delayed” due to COVID.
“We did not have a specific tourism person or department at all before this department happened,” she said. “So, I have no materials. I have no website, I have no banners, signage – I have none of that stuff available to me.”
Morgan explained Monday, “Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been able to lay the groundwork and solidify partnerships to be in a great position to launch the City’s tourism efforts when restrictions lift. The tourism component of this plan is a new effort focused specifically on bringing external visitors to Norwalk. We are working closely with the state Tourism Board on this work and are building new materials (social media, website, etc.) to support these efforts.”
Dornenburg Kallenbach will create the website and social media and their content “so we can actually execute a tourism strategy that makes sense,” Church said in November. “It’s not just a marketing contract, Dornenburg Kallenbach will propose an advertising budget after the website is created and create a marketing plan for Church to refer to “so we can actually push our brand out and let people know that we’re here, and try to draw visitors and you know, even businesses as well, to come to Norwalk.”
Also for Norwalkers to see what’s going on in the city, she said.
Church said she expects to ask for a second year to the contract.
Of course, there’s already been some branding and Kallenback said “The Sound of Connecticut” has “become sort of the omnibus brand for the city, as well as it has a tourism flavor to it.”
“I think that this is the real opportunity … to work with the community and determine what an overall brand might be for Norwalk and whether and whether that supports whether, you know, all boats rise with high tide, as they say, with in regards to tourism and business development and things of that nature,” Kallenback said.
The City’s website is a municipal hub and perhaps there can be two websites, one for things like paying taxes and another for tourism, “but those two should certainly connect and be collaborative, and coordinated,” he said, calling this an “exploratory process.”
Norwalk Now was formed in 2017 to promote businesses in the urban core districts (SoNo, West Avenue, and Wall Street). The Parking Authority hired MaxEx Public Relations, LLC, for the job.
“I felt like they did a great job with marketing, getting the word about local businesses and …just not here in Norwalk, but regionally they got the word out. So I’m very optimistic about this new company that we brought on board,” Planning Committee Chairman John Kydes (D-District C) said in August.
Dornenburg Kallenbach “stole the show” in the RFP process and “I’m very hopeful that they can do equal or if not better job than their predecessors,” he said.
The new marketing contract was originally budgeted at $200,000 but halved due to the revenue losses from COVID-19, then-Director of Transportation, Mobility and Parking Kathryn Hebert said in August. It can be renewed four times. The company will report regularly to the Parking Authority; member Eric Rains spoke of measurable goals.
The Authority approved the line item; the Council approved the contract as the Department of Business Development & Tourism is managing the project.
“NPA has always spent $100,000 not $200,000, on the program,” Morgan said Monday. “They have a line item in the operating budget for $200,000 (parking programs), but that is $100,000 for marketing/promotional program, plus other items as determined by the Parking Authority. We are building off the past three years of Norwalk Now to launch a tourism effort.”
As with Norwalk Now, it’s free for businesses to join Visit Norwalk, Morgan said.
“This program is going to expand to the entire city, and where it originated with just the central location, primarily South Norwalk, and mainly the restaurant businesses, this is going to go a lot further, it’s going to be a lot more broad,” Council member George Tsiranides (D-District D) said in November.
“I like to think this is a great program,” Mayor Harry Rilling said. “You know that the these are challenging times, and a lot of our businesses are struggling. A lot of them are trying to keep their head above water. And we need to help them market their product, help bring people and awareness of what Norwalk has to offer. … We need to provide information and help some of our local businesses thrive, especially since a lot of them have suffered during the pandemic by being closed.”
“The Visit Norwalk efforts continue to grow,” Morgan wrote Monday. “We will continue highlighting all businesses, especially those in the downtowns, in order to increase vitality in the areas, and to support small businesses across the City. This work is an extension of the last three years where the Parking Authority partnered with the City to grow local businesses. Small businesses will continue to be promoted, for free, through Visit Norwalk. And now they will reach an even wider audience through the tourism efforts. Both of these pieces are connected together to support our local businesses.”