Residents Rebrand Reno

| November 5, 2013 | 0 Comments

Photo by Scott Thompson

Grassroots movement encourages area pride through sharing stories

Written by Bridget Meade

It’s no secret Reno has a tough time branding itself. People who have never been are familiar with mocking references made to the city in Reno 911! or 2011’s The Muppet Movie, and the city’s history lies in gambling and easy divorces.

It’s not Vegas. It’s not Tahoe. Nor does it want to be cast in the shadow of these places with which it is often associated. In the past, Reno’s taglines have varied from “America’s Adventure Place” to “Far From Expected” to “A Little West of Center” to “What’s Your Passion?” and now “All Seasons, 1,000 Reasons.”

So when a group of 30 Reno-based marketers convened in February 2013 to rebrand the city in what is now the Biggest Little City movement, eyebrows raised. People asked why this was different than past and present efforts made by the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority (RSCVA) and the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN).

“I was talking about how Reno’s perception is so poor when those who live here know differently,” says Abbi Whitaker of the Biggest Little City movement. “Finally, my husband looked at me and told me to do something about it. I started making phone calls.”

Rather than develop a traditional campaign, the Biggest Little City volunteers created a grassroots perception movement where citizens told their stories about why they love where they live. In keeping with Reno’s reputation as the “Biggest Little City in the World,” volunteers ask people to create their own “big, little.” For example, Campo owner Mark Estee’s “big, little” is “Big Flavor, Little Kitchen.”

“The city’s great to work with,” Estee says in his “big, little” story. “We have year-round business and the city is working really hard to bring visitors here from all walks of life.”

“We all see Reno 911! and hear the comments about this place,” Whitaker says. “We (Reno residents) have a habit of letting other people tell our story. Everyone has a story to inspire others with. They just don’t always know how. We are changing that.”

Even though the movement started without any financial backing, it’s now valued at more than $2 million in volunteer time and donations. The movement includes a fully-integrated marketing communications plan with advertising, print collateral, social media, website and public relations tactics.

Several weeks after the movement launched in June 2013, it received a $100,000 gift from the Peppermill Resort Hotel. The resort offered the usage of its in-house printing services as well as a cash donation.

“The Peppermill opened its doors 40 years ago with a coffee shop and the Fireside Lounge,” says Julia Jeffers, Peppermill Resort Hotel’s public relations communication manager and Biggest Little City volunteer. “The hotel has seen the community grow and change around it. Contributing to this movement was a natural fit for us as it reflected the pride we feel for our town. We want to see Reno succeed.”

The goals of the campaign are simple: change the perception of Reno and build pride.

“Ultimately, if you are a visitor and want to get to know authentic Reno, read the stories,” says Paul Klein of the Biggest Little City movement and creative director for the City of Reno. “If you are planning on moving here, get to know your neighbors.”


Biggest Little City


RSCVA president and CEO Chris Baum acknowledges the Reno area has a perception problem.

“We have wonderful assets in the area with a lot to do year-round. In the past, we have undersold what the area offers.”

That’s why the RSCVA chose its current tagline “All Seasons, 1,000 Reasons.” Baum notes that the new slogan is here to stay. “When I first got here, the area had tried too many taglines in the past,” he says. “In ten years, that will still be the area’s tagline with different campaigns based around it, such as ‘What’s Your Passion?’”

So what does the Biggest Little City movement mean to the RSCVA’s efforts?

The RSCVA’s mission is to attract visitors to enhance the economy and quality of life in Northern Nevada—not just Reno—by showcasing what the area has to offer for vacationers and conventions.

“Our focus is on the national and international scene,” Baum says. “While we all work together, the RSCVA represents the region and the movement doesn’t work for all of Reno-Tahoe. It (the movement) is a part of who we are, not all. It doesn’t mean we don’t love it.”


Biggest Little City


Like the RSCVA, EDAWN wants to attract people but for different purposes. It wants to bring businesses to the area and help them expand. This means EDAWN needs to prove Reno’s quality of life to those who are considering moving their businesses to the area.

“EDAWN uses multiple initiatives to market the region,” says EDAWN president and CEO Mike Kazmierski. “We travel to visit site selectors across the country and hire consultants to set up meetings with companies looking to relocate or expand. We then send out marketing materials, including postcards, to targeted sectors, we attend some conventions and trade shows and use e-mail marketing to promote the region.”

Kazmierski says the Biggest Little City campaign is a complement to EDAWN’s current “Expand your business—enjoy your life” campaign.

“The more positives we can highlight of our region, the easier it will be for EDAWN to convince companies to look at us as a place for business and the more successful we will be in quality job attraction and retention,” says Kazmierski.


Biggest Little City and the City of Reno

When the Biggest Little City volunteers pitched the City of Reno Council on their idea, the council greeted them with open arms.

“They were really excited,” Klein says. “They offered any help they could provide through the communication office.”

It fit hand in hand with the city’s new website,, an idea forum for improving the area.

A few days after the movement’s official launch in June 2013, the Reno and Sparks city councils and Washoe County had their regional meeting. Reno City Councilwoman Neoma Jardon had t-shirts printed that read “Big United, Little Divided.”

“It was a big moment,” Klein says. “For a meeting that can be contentious at times, everyone put on the t-shirt and wore it for the entire meeting. The City of Sparks was so impressed they made their own ‘big, little’ (Big Events, Little City) and are having t-shirts made.”


Measuring Success

Since the goal is to build pride by citizens telling their stories, there are several ways to measure the movement’s success.

When it comes to marketing tactics, numbers matter. In the first month, the website had more than 55,000 page views. NextWeb featured the movement in an article. As of September 2013, the movement’s Facebook page had more than 2,300 fans.

However, since this is not a traditional campaign, it has been argued that it is not as quantifiable.

“It’s a community pride movement, not a campaign,” Jeffers says. “It’s about people who choose to live here telling their stories so others can get an authentic view of a place we love so much.”

To learn more about the Biggest Little City movement or to read or watch stories, visit

Bridget Meade is a Reno-based writer and 2011 graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno’s Interactive Environmental Journalism M.A. program.


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