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How Do We Sell Our City?


The recent controversy with Believable Brands or the efforts of the Visioneering Wichita project a few years ago are part of a recent trend where Wichita leaders bring in outside firms to help the city market itself.

This was not always the case.

In Wichita’s early days, local leaders such as William Greiffenstein came together to organize events, while Wichita Eagle editor Marshall Murdock was the city’s main publicity arm. In the 1880s, the Board of Trade, with developer A. W. Oliver as president, lead a fervent booster campaign with the slogan, “Harmony, Unity, Strength, Success.” In 1909, the city commission adopted the slogan “Watch Wichita Win.” In the 1910s and 1920s, the Commercial Club and later the Chamber of Commerce coordinated “booster trains” into Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico to promote this city’s prospects to business figures across the region.

Wichita’s political and business leaders did not hire consultants; they were too busy meeting for the next event.

It was not a flawless system. It represented primarily the interests of a small group of business elites connected especially to development, banking and real estate. The general public did not participate. Decisions came from gatherings in social club rooms or, early on, Greiffenstein’s front porch, rather than focus groups. It represented a time when businesses were locally owned rather than global corporations.

Still, in a world of expensive out-of-state consultants, it may be appropriate to reflect on the lessons of a time when local leaders took the risk to make the decisions about Wichita’s identity and direction.

Jay M. Price is chair of the department of history at Wichita State University, where he also directs the public history program.