Marketing initiative to raise city revenue

By Lauryn Smith

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is allowing businesses to buy advertising space on many of Chicago’s assets in an attempt to shrink the city’s $635.7 million budget deficit.

Emanuel announced the initiative on Oct. 12 during his budget proposal and has since decided to go ahead with the plan to raise revenues to balance the 2012 budget, according to his spokesman, Tom Alexander.

“There’s a belief that the city can raise some much-needed revenue by maximizing advertising opportunities on some existing properties and other items that we already have in place,” Alexander said.

With the budget expected to save the city $406 million, as reported by The Chronicle on Nov. 21, the ad space is estimated to raise $25 million by the end of 2012.

According to Alexander, the ads can be placed not only on the city’s infrastructure, but also on its website and any smaller properties, such as city stickers, trash cans and parking meters.

So far, Bank of America is the only company that has taken part in the new marketing initiative by placing seven ads on the Wabash Avenue Bridge. They will stay there until their monthlong agreement ends on Dec. 12.

Bank of America paid $4,500 to put the banners on the limestone bridge houses. According to city spokeswoman Kathleen Strand, the company partnered with the city to generate interest from the

business community.

The marketing project, originally proposed by former mayor Richard M. Daley while in office, has been updated. Daley’s plan involved advertising solely on the Chicago River bridge houses: Emanuel’s plan is to advertise on any city property that could potentially generate funds, Strand said.

“We continually look for new and innovative approaches to market to our customers beyond the traditional methods,” said Diane Wagner, senior vice president of Media Relations at Bank of America. “We agreed to be the first company to display on the bridge because we wanted to help the city explore new revenue sources.”

Despite only having one advertiser, Alexander said it was still too early to tell what sales will look like in the future, and added that the expected increase in revenue was a well-thought-out and reasoned calculation while determining the 2012 budget.

“The process is just starting,” he said. “There’s no reason to think that sales have been slow or stunted.”

Alexander said there has been negative public reaction to the advertisements on the bridge houses, but that they are not necessarily because of the plan itself; rather, people are critical of its execution—placement on historic Chicago landmarks.

According to Strand, a committee of city leaders and individuals with backgrounds in law and ethics is currently being put together. The group will be in charge of setting guidelines and policies regarding companies’ advertisements “to ensure the integrity and the value of the city is protected,” Strand said.

“The reaction from the public by and large has been that the mayor and his administration have a very reasonable outlook relative to the city’s financial position,” Alexander said. “The mayor is willing to make the difficult choices that the city needs at this time to get its financial house in order.”

The Chicago Park District and the Chicago Transit Authority already have similar initiatives in place. The CTA receives $20 million annually from ads on buses and trains, Strand said.

Emanuel’s administration is using the CTA’s program as a model for the initiative. The hope is to increase revenue while still protecting citizens from additional financial burdens during these difficult economic times, Strand said.

“It’s no different than what we are doing in any other department,” Alexander said. “It’s an effort to maximize value for the taxpayers.”

As soon as the committee is in place and a permanent marketing firm is chosen, Strand said the administration will quickly move forward with the initiative.