DC, We Have a (#Branding) Problem


Back in 2008, I visited DC for the first time as an adult. While the weather was cold, the city felt warm, vibrant and electric; our former President Barack Obama had just been elected and the future looked bright. I fell in love with the city’s architecture, quirks and people. Up until that point, I generally regarded DC to be full of rigid government professionals and stately buildings, a sentiment shared by many Americans. But this trip uncovered something more for me – the people were friendly, the row homes were beautiful and the food was incredible. Four years later, I decided to make things official with this lovely place. A day after graduation, I packed my 97 Honda Accord, drove up 95 and settled into a suburb in DC Metro.

Over the next five years, I watched DC’s economic boom. In 2011, Washington Post reported that millennials made up over one third of the District’s population, due to the city’s resurgence and re-brand as a hip place for young professionals to migrate. The city topped countless “Top 10” lists, as its new identity began to emerge. We became one of the first places to legalize marijuana and gay marriage, along with other hot button social issues.

To put it colloquially, it was lit.

And then, November 2016 happened.

Throughout his campaign, Trump commonly referred to the District in negative terms, mentioning that he planned to “Drain The Swamp”. Because of our close proximity to the government, people tend to throw the baby out with the bath water. But it’s not fair or accurate. DC is not a swamp – people live here.

To think of it in branding terms, the formation of DC’s new-found identity had a lot to do with our president at the time – he was young, cool and hip, and as a result, the city had the same vibe. However, Trump and his administration go against our brand guidelines, if you will. He is the exact opposite of everything many Washingtonians stand for – inclusion, individuality and equal opportunities for all.

So, I was pleased to learn about BrightestYoungThings and FotoWeekDC #NotASwamp campaign which urges fellow Washingtonians to upload photos of their everyday lives to celebrate everything that makes D.C. a great place to live. People also took to Twitter to express their feelings on the issue:

Only time will tell how Trump’s presidency influences our city from a social and economic standpoint. I wouldn’t be surprised if tourism revenue dips a bit in the coming months. However, I believe that DC’s tourism and economic development officials should use this as an opportunity to rebrand by highlighting the stories of Washingtonians and to promote our vibrant culture like it truly deserves.


About the Author: Krysten Copeland is the founder of KC & Co Communications, a boutique Public Relations and Marketing firm located in Washington, DC.

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