Cart is before the horse


To The Editor:
No doubt, the region was enjoying the spotlight last week, what with the article on the challenges facing the Catskills brand in The New York Times. So much of the article focused on the point of view that a total departure with the past was necessary. And so much of the region’s future hopes seem pinned to the competition to generate a new “Catskill catchphrase,” a contest currently in deliberation, gearing up for an online vote to decide on the winner.

As a brand strategist and a great admirer of the Catskills, I feel compelled to say that both of these approaches are not ideal given your challenges.

First, a thought on the catchphrase competition: While the spirit of seeking a fresh statement on the region is a good one, a competition to generate a tagline is not the way to do it. Behind every famous tagline is a great idea, and the Catskill Park Resource Foundation should start with the idea before the execution. This process should be thoughtful, and ideally done by branding professionals who can lend the expertise and insight that the region deserves. The process should begin with thoughtful consideration of the Catskills are really about. Capture that as a brand story, and great execution will follow.

This brings us to the larger issue: what are the Catskills really about? The quotes in the New York Times article seemed eager to dispose of the past, especially the iconic mid-20th century associations. While you must proceed with an eye to the future, this dismissiveness seems shortsighted at best. In our over-mediated, over-stimulated, over-marketed times, people crave authenticity, and the Catskills has that in droves. No one would recommend re-creating “Dirty Dancing,” but chances are, embedded in that rich cultural history is a kernel that become part of your story, and leveraged to make the Catskills a rich destination for the 21st century.

Looking from the outside in, I do not write this letter with all of the answers, but I do write it with the great hope that the Catskill Park Resource Foundation will take a step back and re-examine their process, and their needs.

Great brands do not need to come from massive marketing budgets; no doubt branding firms and expert individuals would be proud to work on this. With a brand as rich, storied, and vital as the Catskills, no doubt it would be an honor.

Karen Schnelwar,
New York