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Q With Sandias, With Albuquerque Culture

By Autumn Gray
Of the Journal
    EVERYBODY'S BUSINESS: You've heard of D.C., L.A. and the Big D. Now Albuquerque has its own monogrammic moniker, too: the Q.
    The quirky letter, which is so quintessentially Albuquerque, is now "the graphic focal point of the (city's) branding.
    "It's traditional, yet contemporary. It has promotional legs. It maximizes the city's distinctive spelling. It's versatile," Debbie Johnson, CEO of local ad agency Rick Johnson & Co., told members of the tourism and hospitality industries last week.

The mayor would like to hear your opinion of the Q. E-mail him at mchavez@cabq.gov.

    For the debut of the Q, Johnson flaunted some of its "looks" one by one, throwing the letter up on a large screen, catwalk style, in a variety of graphic dressings. Many turned the letter's tail into the sweeping Sandia mountain range. Its circle took on a number of faces, from the sun's to the city's seal.
    In the vein of "Sesame Street" sign-offs, the letter Q was sponsored by the mayor: "I just started seeing it around town— at ABQ Uptown, the Albuquerque Studios, or the Q Studios, the Q Bar, you name it," Mayor Martin Chávez told the Journal. "It's a wonderful way to express modern-day Albuquerque. ... I just like the heck out of it."
    Johnson's presentation of the letter was essentially the Voila!, the grand finale, that concluded the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau's Destination Master Plan annual review at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.
    The meeting was designed to help answer the question: How do we make Albuquerque a world-class destination, meanwhile doubling our annual tourist dollars from $2 billion to $4 billion within five years. (That's a quadrennium plus one).
    For two and a half hours before the Q took the spotlight, the audience heard about tourism marketing strategies including the city's need to "own" hot-air ballooning, lest some quack city sneak up and steal it; eliminate quibbling— the "we vs. they" mentality— among the region's communities; renovate the convention center to the tune of $20 million as quickly as possible; and train front-line employees to speak knowledgeably about the area's qualities, rather than saying, "there's nothing to do here. You might try Santa Fe."
    All of it was about branding the city.
    "A brand is not just a logo or an ad campaign. It's long-term and not from a single source," Johnson said. "Branding needs to be cultivated. It's a position. It's a personality. Branding is the promise of delivering something people really want."
    The Q will be the visual part of that, allowing for continuity in publicity materials and creating a unifying element among economic development and tourism organizations.
    For years, "there's been 'friendly debate' about what Albuquerque stands for," Johnson told the Journal. "It's been all over the place, from roadrunners to cactus."
    The ACVB narrowed it to four things— the area's rich cultural heritage, outdoor recreation, hot-air balloons, and our spectacular climate. All involve the sun and the mountains, and that's what Rick Johnson & Co. considered when designing the Q.
    "We're calling it an omnibrand because it's different from a standard corporate brand, where the usage is relatively rigid and there are standards that have to be followed," Johnson said. "We're encouraging all of Albuquerque to be creative and have fun with the Q. We want it to represent a variety of organizations and features and characteristics of the city.
    "Ultimately, it gives the city a memorable, unique identity that differentiates it from its competition. Everybody's competing for tourist dollars and economic development dollars."
    The mayor said the public can expect to see the Q making appearances in the next few weeks.
Tourism today
  • The average visitor to Albuquerque is a woman, in her 40s, Internet savvy and well-educated.
  • The average stay in Albuquerque is four days.
  • The average amount spent is $420.
        The ACVB is developing a curriculum to train front-line employees, such as hotel front desk staff, cab and shuttle drivers, and restaurant servers, how to better interact with tourists.
        "We consider anyone who comes into contact with a visitor to be front-line," said Elise Rogers, ACVB vice president of development.
        Training may be conducted by ACVB staff or could be contracted out, she said. The location, too, has yet to be determined, but the hope is to offer training by the fall.
    Careful what you say
        Q fans might want to quash the phrase, "Get Q fever," before it starts. There really is an illness by that name, "characterized by fever, headache, muscular pains and pneumonia, transmitted by contact or ticks," quoth the dictionary.
    What do you think?
        The mayor would like to hear your opinion of the Q. E-mail him at mchavez@cabq.gov.
    If you have a business news tip, idea or insider information, contact Autumn Gray, assistant business editor, at 823-3962.

    E-MAIL Autumn Gray