What kind of clients . . .

mParks Logo
. . . are you looking for? It’s a question I’ve heard a lot since we started Factory. I think when people ask it, they expect the answer to be something like automotive or fast food or travel or whatever. But my answers are never about categories or industries.

The things I talk about have less to do with the “who” and more to do with the “why.” For instance:

Do they need help? With their branding, messaging, look, story, tactics? In this business, you want to make a difference.

Is it help we can give? We don’t pretend Factory is right for every assignment. No ad agency is. And agencies tend to struggle when they pretend otherwise.

Is our help wanted? At a prospect meeting, we shared ideas on how they could ratchet up their advertising, etc. Turns out, they were convinced their advertising, etc., was already awesome. Which it wasn’t. You can only help people who let you.

Are they interested in doing interesting work? Or at the very least the kind of work we’re interested in doing? Not all clients and agencies are good fits.

Are they a brand we’ll feel good working for? It’s great when you can be truly proud to work on a brand. After all, we’re in the business of creating belief. It’s easier when you have some.

Do they give us a chance to put positive energy into the world? I’m not a fan of cynical, vulgar, ironic advertising. Some people are; it’s just not what I want to spend my time doing. I’d rather our work add to the well being of the world, if only a little.

Which brings us to a brand called mParks.

Well, that’s what it’s called now. For 80 years, the brand was the Michigan Recreation and Park Association.

They’re the collective voice of the state’s parks and recreation people. Every state has an organization like it. In Michigan, there are north of 2,000 state, county and local park and recreation properties. So it’s an important part of what the community-minded like to call “quality of life.”

Now, most of America’s 50 statewide park associations have been around a long time. All of them have clunky names with lots of characters. Nearly all have sad, unattractive logos.

Last year, we were introduced to the folks at MRPA. We like the space they’re in. So we committed to creating a new logo for them.

In the middle of working on that we asked ourselves, hey, what if they changed their name?

The 50 state organizations have the same naming construct: 1) State name followed by 2) some combination of “Parks” and “Recreation” followed by 3) “Association” or “Society.” But most of them have been around for generations. Who says naming conventions from the Golden Age of Radio still pertain in the Smartphone Era?

So we asked the clients, would you be open to changing your name?

They said they would.

And they weren’t lying. This week we launched the new brand identity, mParks, and a new logo, which you saw at the top of this post.

The old brand name ran to 40 characters. The new one, six. It’ll work harder on things like advertising, collateral, online banners, social media, coffee mugs, decals and so on.

Our next challenge was messaging.

If you look into those 50 state associations, you’ll see the messaging isn’t particularly compelling. Often there’s no message at all. When there is, it’s usually of the finger wag variety, a lecture about how much people should value parks, a la:

“Creating communities through people, parks and programs!”

“Your Quality of Life is our Business.”

“Parks Make Life Better!”

Yeah, it’s all true. But, take something inherently fun – like a state’s parks and recreation offerings – and turn it into a lecture? No thanks.

I think of advertising as a sampling program for brands. Not unlike the old ladies who hand out sausages on toothpicks at the grocery store. In a TV spot or a radio commercial or a banner ad or a poster or a whatever, the impression is a miniature experience of the brand. If you like it, you’ll want more.

Suppose you’re the brand that speaks for the people who run our parks and recreation areas. Where we can spend time with family, friends, maybe just our own thoughts. Where we can indulge some of our favorite pastimes. Where we can take in the loveliness of nature.

Rather than lecturing us about how important public parks are for society, how about just, well, encouraging us to experience that product? Think of the communication as an invitation.

That’s where Come Out And Play – slogan and song – came from. It’s a start. There’ll be radio PSAs, TV PSAs, web videos and more.

And the bottom line?

It’s those questions I have about the best opportunities for our agency to make a difference for a client:

Do they need help? Is it help we can give? Is our help wanted? Are they interested in doing interesting work? Are they a brand we’ll feel good working for? Do they give us a chance to put positive energy into the world?

Turns out, for what is now mParks, the answers were yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.