Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, Cecelia Cagni has led the highly collaborative charge to brand Pittsburgh. We caught up with her to learn more about the branding of “Pittsburgh Region. Next is Now.”

Why did the Allegheny Conference feel the need to brand Pittsburgh, and why now?

We started this process as part of our 2018/19 plan for the conference, our multi-year plan for the region. And one thing we were hearing from our members and our partners is that we don’t have a unified way of talking about the region. Because of that, we were leaving opportunity on the table in the form of business investment, talent retention and attraction, as well as visitors.

Did you look at other cities and what they are doing in the way of branding?

One of the things we were very committed to through this entire process was making sure that it was rooted in research, that we weren’t just talking to ourselves. We did the work. We looked at a number of other metros and what they were doing in terms of their messages, their branding, their pillars. We looked at places like Austin, Boston and Denver, Salt Lake City, Nashville and Toronto, to see what the competition is up to.

Some of the most compelling marketing campaigns are in places like Denver and Nashville. In both places, they really made their branding about the individual and we thought that was something our region could learn from. So we committed to a campaign and an effort that really paints a picture of what it’s like to be in Pittsburgh — what you can experience because of Pittsburgh, and really make our audiences the hero of the story, so to speak. We wanted to tell the story of what you can become because of Pittsburgh.

So, this goes beyond the branding and beyond the actual slogan you’re using.

Right. It’s a unified set of messages or a story about our region. We do have a name and a tagline and that’s great. But this is so much more at the end of the day. It’s one brand and one story and one voice that can really elevate efforts that will help our economy and all our people to thrive.

In addition to being rooted in research, it was a very collaborative process, led by our Strategic Communications Committee that’s chaired by Helen Hanna Casey. A group of some 30 communications professionals from member and partner organizations guided this entire effort and their expertise was leveraged. The process was to distill the essence of Pittsburgh.

Through that process, we identified Pittsburgh being a place for world shapers, the purpose-driven, the iconic, the builders; Pittsburgh being a place that embraces authenticity, problem-solving, ingenuity and collaboration. It’s a proven and iconic city and region, where next is happening now.

From that, we developed themes about shaping the world, living with purpose, building the future and becoming iconic.

Your brand is your promise. It couldn’t be just stuff that sounded good; this had to really distill the essence of our region.

Let’s talk about the strengths and weaknesses of our region. First, what are the things that you absolutely want the world to know about Pittsburgh, where we’re really strong?

Cecelia Cagni has been the lead in communications for the Allegheny Conference since 2015.

It’s really baked into those themes that I talked about — that we are a place that is shaping the world, where you can live with purpose, meaning you can enjoy your work and love your life outside of it; you can make a mark and make the world a better place from Pittsburgh. It’s a place where you can really be true to your own identity and be embraced by this supportive and collaborative community, a place that is building the future.

And from an economic perspective? 

The interesting thing about Pittsburgh is we have a very diverse economy, right? We have opportunities in robotics and AI and cyber and finance and manufacturing and more. A lot of that is anchored in the fact that we have these strong R&D assets and deep technology driving all of our industries forward.

That’s really differentiating. If you’re in Pittsburgh, you know this for sure. You know we are a robotics hub, and we’re a top place for STEM talent, and we have amazing innovations in energy and all these other sectors. The rest of the world doesn’t necessarily know that something is happening here, so the brand is designed to help us have a common message and amplify it.

What about our weaknesses? For one. Pittsburgh is not known as being region for all. We have a problem attracting and keeping people of color. In a recent study, Pittsburgh came out as the worst city in America for Black people.

I think it’s really important to note that the brand isn’t intended to gloss over those issues. Those issues are real — deep-rooted institutional racism and the scarring of our region from a quality of life and economic perspective by the pandemic.

And it doesn’t mean we all see Pittsburgh in the same way. But I do think the brand has a role in addressing some of those challenges so ensuring that it’s the stories we tell, right? It can play a role by reflecting everyone who is here, those who are shaping the region, and those who can join us for the future. We need to make sure that we’re telling stories so that people can see themselves here in Pittsburgh, and that’s a really important aspect of the branding work.

I would also say there are challenges related to the pandemic we have to repair and recover. But part of that is being able to ramp up our efforts aimed at newly mobile talent and the industries that are growing, particularly those that are positioned to grow in the near terms.