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Washington, D.C.: [New Slogan Goes Here]

Seattle's new slogan,
Seattle's new slogan, "metronatural," is proclaimed in 18-foot letters on the Space Needle. "It was not immediately embraced" locally, an official said. (By Elaine Thompson -- Associated Press)

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By Sue Anne Pressley Montes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 25, 2007

Seattle has a new tag line: "metronatural." And Little Rock has recently begun calling itself "The Rock."

Now the District is looking for its own catchy way to describe and define the city and lure more tourists to town. Tourism officials are hiring marketers, conducting surveys and convening focus groups in search of a few words or images that capture Washington's essence.

The current slogan, used for nearly a decade, never electrified anybody. It appears in every D.C. taxicab and on the sleeve of every D.C. police officer, but even longtime residents are hard-pressed to recall it: "Washington, D.C.: The American Experience." Another catchphrase, "Celebrate and Discover," which appeared for a time on D.C. license plates, also was a snoozer.

Civic leaders say they are looking for more than just a snappy line. Tourism accounts for $5 billion in direct spending each year (and $550 million a year into the city's general fund.) The District needs a new brand, as they call it, as distinctive as that of Nike or Apple, that will get to the heart of what's appealing about the area.

"What we're trying to uncover are the emotional connections and motivators for our visitors," said Victoria Isley, senior vice president of marketing for the Washington Convention & Tourism Corp., the organization leading the effort.

Isley's Brand Marketing Task Force, which began meeting in January, includes officials from the Washington Convention Center, Marriott International, the Greater Washington Initiative and the National Gallery of Art.

Feedback is rolling in from a variety of sources -- an online survey of 1,800 people across the country; interviews with 35 stakeholders such as the D.C. government; and meetings with 10 local focus groups. In a survey running through April, a new Web site,, asks local residents what they think. (Sample factoid: 70 percent say they call their home "D.C." None calls it "the Capital.")

Two firms have been hired to research and develop the slogan, which will be launched in early fall, Isley said. The project is expected to cost about $150,000, she said.

Task force members say the timing is right -- the District has improved dramatically in recent years, and people who live elsewhere need to know that.

"What we're talking about is the way we communicate about ourselves, and I think from time to time, we have to check: What is the story we're telling? Is it a different story?" said Richard Bradley, executive director of the Downtown DC Business Improvement District and a task force member. "Washington for a long time was the nation's capital, which was one-dimensional. Then it was the crime capital."

In 2000, then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) added still another slogan to the mix, "Taxation Without Representation," which appears on license plates.

The District is definitely in on a trend, as many states and other cities are busy rethinking their public images -- and spending plenty of time and money on it.

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