It wasn’t an easy decision and it didn’t come overnight as a judging panel — selected by Mayor Tom Rowland and chaired by Melissa Woody, vice president of the Convention & Visitors Bureau for the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce — labored for months collecting a list of community submissions that approached nearly 2,000 ideas.
The city’s new identity cracked the “Top 10” news stories list for 2012, as voted by Cleveland Daily Banner staff writers and editors. The branding campaign came in at No. 7, just ahead of news coverage about the Cleveland Regional Jetport (No. 8), the arrival of Publix Super Market (No. 9) and the construction of Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland’s 100th house (No. 10).
The winning entry came from Phyllis Anderson, a language arts teacher at Cleveland Middle School who learned of the contest from a news story in the Banner. Her dilemma, like that facing all who chose to brainstorm suggestions for the city’s nickname, was how to encapsulate the diverse history of Cleveland and Bradley County into just a few words that could be used in conjunction with the city seal and in countless promotions.
In the tradition of verses scribbled on a napkin while having lunch or a random thought popping into the mind of a weary traveler, Anderson’s idea came one night as she tried to sleep.
“It was strange the way it happened,” she told the Banner shortly after the Council’s decision. “The word ‘spirit’ entered my mind.”
As a Lee University graduate, she immediately thought of the religious connection because Cleveland is headquarters to seven Christian denominations and the Pentecostal Theological Seminary. Prompted by her thoughts, Anderson got out of bed, went to her computer and further considered how the word “spirit” could be used in connection with Cleveland.
One is the legend of Tall Betsy and the tragic story of Nina Craigmiles that she tells her middle school students at Halloween. Another is “enterprising spirit” that points to the presence of Whirlpool, Volkswagen, Wacker and a variety of other industries.
Other ideas popped into her head involving “spirit.”
“Because I’m a teacher, I thought of ‘team spirit’ and then I thought of ‘spirit of recovery’ after the tornadoes [of April 2011],” she said. “It is a simple slogan, but I thought most people could identify with ‘The City With Spirit.’”
She added, “I was surprised to win after seeing how many people entered. I felt my chances were pretty slim.”
The final judging came down to two ideas — Anderson’s, and “Hometown Feel, Global Appeal.” Woody’s committee had been tasked by the mayor to whittle the full slate of names down to either a few, a couple or even just one, and to present the group’s recommendation to the full Council.
Judges chose two and let Council members do the rest.
Hoping to select one of the finalists in January, the governing body instead tabled the issue for extended discussion. The delay also allowed the public to weigh in as well once Woody had presented the two ideas to the Council.
Council members made their decision in mid-February on a split 5-2 vote. Favoring “The City With Spirit” were Councilmen Dale Hughes, George Poe, Bill Estes, Richard Banks and Vice Mayor Avery Johnson. Councilmen Charlie McKenzie and David May voted against.
In presenting the two finalists to the Council, Woody pointed out both said a lot about Cleveland’s history, the community’s heritage and its people’s values.
Of “The City With Spirit,” the Chamber leader pointed out, “We have a wonderful work spirit. We have a welcoming spirit. We have a godly spirit. There are many different things that can represent.”
The second finalist, “Hometown Feel, Global Appeal,” was actually inspired by another entry.
“We feel like with our community on the radar of corporations, for visitors and different cultures and nationalities represented in our community, that was also an appropriate selection,” Woody explained of the eventual runner-up.
With some of her cash prize — $1,000 — Anderson did what Cleveland and Bradley County teachers do best. She remembered her students.
“I had let my students know I was one of the two finalists and they were pulling for me,” she said shortly after the Council’s decision. “I’m going to use part of the prize money to bake 120 cupcakes.”
When asked what kind of cupcakes, she chuckled, “Students don’t care about the cake as long as there are sprinkles on it.”
The Cleveland mayor launched the city nickname contest in early summer 2011, with a Sept. 30 deadline. The contest was heavily promoted by area news media outlets, including several news updates by the Banner. The community newspaper also published a series of 10 “Inkspots” columns on its editorial pages during the contest period to promote awareness of the campaign and to stimulate ideas by publishing the names of hundreds of city slogans, nicknames and brands already used in communities across America.
Members of the city slogan selection committee included Nancy Casson, Dr. Jerome Hammond, Greg Kaylor, Brenda Lawson, Jimmy Logan, Sharon Marr, Mike Middleton, Demetrius Ramsey and Woody.
Since its February selection, “The City With Spirit” has been added to the city of Cleveland’s website, and is slowly being transitioned to municipal stationary, business cards and other items as supplies run out. The caption also is being used by the mayor in public speaking engagements, and is showing up in news articles, personal columns and editorials published by the Banner.
At least one local business — Cherokee Pharmacy — is selling T-shirts bearing “The City With Spirit” nickname. Other types of promotions involving the branding slogan might also be in operation either through sales, logowear or signage in the community.
Reflecting on the brand slogan contest, Rowland praised Anderson’s submission and he thanked all contestants who submitted ideas. He also credited the efforts of the selection committee and Woody’s leadership.
“With all the good entries we received, I think the judges made an excellent choice,” Rowland said Friday. “I would hate to have been a judge.”
He pointed to how the nickname is already being used.
“As our letterheads empty out, all the new ones, as well as our business cards, will include ‘The City With Spirit,’” the mayor confirmed. “I am also exploring the idea of placing it on our vehicles.”
He applauded Cherokee Pharmacy’s decision to market the slogan with its T-shirt sales.
“I also appreciate the many folks and businesses who donated the prize money that eventually was won by Mrs. Anderson,” Rowland said. “This was an excellent contest and ‘The City With Spirit’ will go a long, long way in helping to identify our community ... tell the story and ... speak of the heritage, of our people.”