LEWISTON — If you have anything to say about Lewiston — the good, the bad and the ugly — now is the time.

The city is in the middle of a comprehensive effort through focus groups and a survey to get feedback on the community, considered a first phase of a larger branding campaign.

According to City Administrator Ed Barrett, the effort was initiated two years ago, when the previous City Council listed a marketing and branding effort as a top priority.

Roughly $40,000 was included in this year’s budget to begin phase one of the process. The city has contracted with Auburn-based marketing firm Warp+Weft, which has been holding a series of focus groups and has designed an online survey.

“It’s the start of trying to put together a generalized approach of how we’re trying to get our message out to the world,” Barrett said Wednesday.

He added, “everything that comes from the city looks different,” with no consistent theme or message, which is the major focal point of the branding effort.

The end result will hopefully nail down a “story” that Lewiston wants to be part of economic development efforts in attracting new businesses and new residents who might live and work in the city, Barrett said.

He said the previous council was concerned with building a consistent brand but also counteracting negative perceptions of Lewiston throughout the state.

As for the new council, Barrett said its planning session and retreat does not take place until next month. However, in the run-up to the 2019 election, Mayor Mark Cayer and Councilor Luke Jensen said Lewiston’s image was a priority.

A total of $75,000 was budgeted, with about $27,000 set aside for phase two where the city will launch the brand and new marketing and communication materials such as an updated website.

Barrett said phase one includes focus groups, the survey, auditing the current branding, marketing and communication materials, market research, and “development of key messaging aimed at particular target markets.”

Jennie Malloy, owner and director of strategy for Warp+Weft, said Wednesday that they have conducted 18 focus group sessions so far.

“As a branding agency, we know the importance of hearing from as many constituents as possible when going through the branding process,” she said. “For the city, that means speaking to all the diverse spheres of our community — fielding their insights, perspectives and perceptions, concerns, hopes and visions for Lewiston.”

There are still three focus group sessions scheduled, with one session slated for 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28, and two sessions at 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 29.

The sign-up page for the sessions invites residents to engage in a “group discussion about the city of Lewiston — its brand, its story, its potential, its vision. Your voice and your participation matter for shaping the future of our city.”

While the online survey has just begun, the city has already received about 100 responses, and Barrett said the city will be pushing the survey to increase participation.

The survey effort includes three different versions, with surveys for residents, business owners and employees.

Questions on the survey for residents include, “What are the first three words that come to mind when you think of Lewiston?” and it asks residents to rank to what extent the city is family-friendly and business-friendly.

It asks residents to describe Lewiston’s “current brand,” and to rate the quality of life here.

Malloy said more interviews are being scheduled through February to receive feedback from the community. After the focus groups are completed, Warp+Weft will process it and data from the online survey and present findings, known as a brand strategy, to the city for review.

The city has not embarked on a marketing campaign in at least a decade, but has previously given funding for more regional efforts with Auburn, the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council and the L-A Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. The LAEGC, with strong Chamber support, initiated the locally well-known slogan “It’s Happening Here,” and the Chamber has since rolled out campaigns including a 2018 “Make It Here” television ad.

Warp+Weft has worked with several Lewiston-Auburn businesses, including Roopers, Auburn Savings, Canty Cow Creamery and Androscoggin Home Healthcare + Hospice.

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