County rolling out new brand

By Jason Evans
Staff Reporter


Pickens County rolled out new branding last week following a presentation from the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor.

County community relations manager Jamie Burns said in a release that a new slogan — “Adventure Starts Here” — was adopted as part of the rebrand, along with a new county logo modeled after the county seal with mountains, lakes and four stars representing the four Medal of Honor recipients in Pickens County.

Beginning earlier this year, Pickens County parks, recreation and tourism staff oversaw the branding process in collaboration with the National Heritage Corridor, Burns said.

SC National Heritage Corridor president and CEO Michelle McCollum gave a presentation to county council members at their July 13 meeting.

“My team has had a blast doing this project,” she said, before hitting the highlights of a branding plan called “It All Starts Here.”

“A brand is a perception of your community,” McCollum said. “It’s what comes to mind when they hear your name. A marketing campaign takes your message to a specific group.

“We’re not offering up recommendations that we know are not attainable to you just to wow you,” she continued. “We offer up things that we know your county can do and steps that you can take.”

Future tourism development “should always enhance the brand that you’ve decided on,” she said.

Development of the brand included a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis, an online survey, meetings with stakeholders and “secret shopper” trips to area businesses, McCollum said.

“You have an extensive, unspoiled natural environment that is unique to Pickens County,” she said. “The area here is suitable for year-round tourism activity. You can have something significant going on all months of the year.

“It is absolutely the best part of the Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway,” McCollum said.

Other Pickens County strengths include the area’s deep Appalachian history, a strong arts and crafts community, a three-tiered lake system and “a network of well-maintained parks and trails throughout the county,” she said.

A lack of land-use zoning “to protect scenic byways and viewsheds” is a weakness, she said.

“I know the z-word is a bad word, but if you don’t protect it, you’re going to lose it,” McCollum said. “You can put billboards all up and down that byway, if you wanted to. There’s nothing preventing you from doing that, and what a shame that would be.”

Table Rock and the Highway 11 corridor is “the heart of your county,” McCollum said.

Other weaknesses include no major developed efforts aimed at the outdoors or history and heritage, an insufficient marketing budget, fragmented marketing efforts throughout the county and “a lack of cohesive gateway signage” like that in Oconee County and other areas, she said.

“When you cross the county lines, you need to know you’ve arrived somewhere,” McCollum said. “You need to understand ‘I’m in someplace special’ — and your sign can do that for you.”

Wayfinding signage can direct people to “those key points of interest,” she said.

“I guarantee you that if you put a plan like this together, even residents will find and discover things they didn’t know were here,” McCollum said.

Pickens County has the opportunity to position itself to “claim ownership of the mountains, lakes and gorges,” McCollum said.

“National Geographic has named the Jocassee Gorges a destination of a lifetime and one of 50 of the last great places on the planet,” she said. “Claim ownership of that. It’s right here in Pickens County. Claim it and market it and use it.”

A development strategy that “utilizes the great outdoors as a hook to pull people in” is another opportunity, as is creating walkable main streets with unique shopping and dining, McCollum said.

“The bones of every Main Street and downtown area you have in Pickens County is there,” she said.

Threats include “loss of character and identity of the county,” McCollum said.

“This a very real and present threat,” she said.

Increased use of Highway 11 by heavy trucks as an alternative to Interstate 85 is another threat, as is competition from the Blue Ridge Parkway and surrounding North Carolina mountain communities, she said.

“They are spending money on tourism development and marketing,” she said.

Lack of state, local and private investment into tourism is another threat, McCollum said.

County Council chairman Roy Costner said council should schedule a workshop “to dig deeper” and discuss the plan further.

“We do believe that God has created Disney World,” he said. “We don’t have to build anything. All we have to do is promote it and figure out how to market it and protect it.”

Pickens County will release a new website congruent with the brand this fall, and new signage is expected to begin going up soon, Burns said. The county’s social media accounts are being updated to reflect the brand, she said.