Varcoe: Be Part of the Energy no more, Calgary — welcome to Blue Sky City

Be Part of the Energy was a tag line that has been in use since early last decade and played off the city’s roots as an oil and gas powerhouse.

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Calgary is embracing a new brand, and it’s striving to look up.

Calgary Economic Development announced Wednesday that it’s adopting a new brand — Blue Sky City.

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It replaces Calgary: Be Part of the Energy, a tag line that has been in use since early last decade and played off the city’s roots as an oil and gas powerhouse, while capturing the spirit of a vibrant city.

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Blue Sky City is a nod to Calgary’s innovation, diversity, and the blue-sky thinking that goes on. It also doesn’t hurt that Calgary is the sunniest city in the country, reporting 333 days of sunshine annually.

“It’s not about change, it’s about evolution,” Calgary Economic Development (CED) chief executive Brad Parry said in an interview.

“It kind of epitomizes who we are. When you look up to the sky, you have this feeling of possibilities, you feel like you can do anything . . . It just opens up so many possibilities for us to be able to tell those stories.”

Why make the change?

CED said research conducted for the authority and Tourism Calgary indicated that Calgarians didn’t feel fully represented by the old brand, and that it could leave a one-dimensional perspective of the city to those from outside Alberta.

“We heard loud and clear (that) some people didn’t feel that they belonged to the brand, they didn’t feel like they were included in the brand,” Parry added.

“For us, it’s about building this opportunity for all of our voices to be heard under this sort of canvas of the blue sky.”

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What followed was extensive research and engagement with more than 100 organizations across Calgary.

Parry noted the city previously committed $1.8 million to CED, and $3 million to Tourism Calgary, to work jointly over four years to advance work on branding, including research, development and its launch. The new brand will be rolled out over time.

Ultimately, Blue Sky City has emerged after more than two years of work.

“Calgary is a city that’s evolving,” Tourism Calgary CEO Cindy Ady said in an interview.

“Lots of the elements that we had in the past are still involved in what we’re doing, but it also talks about where we are heading as a city . . . and the one thing we all have in common is we all sit under the same sky.”

A sign on Macleod Trail on Calgary’s southern city limits bearing the current “Be Part of the Energy” slogan, seen on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015. Ted Rhodes/Postmedia file
A sign on Macleod Trail on Calgary’s southern city limits bearing the current “Be Part of the Energy” slogan, seen on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015. Ted Rhodes/Postmedia file

Two years ago, the Calgary Chamber of Commerce also called for the city to strengthen its reputation and brand, to help sell itself to the rest of Canada as a place to live and work.

The Blue Sky City brand arrives as Calgary Economic Development holds its annual report to the community event on Wednesday.

It also comes during a period of rapid growth, as thousands of people from other provinces and countries are moving here, the economy is diversifying and Calgary is growing more diverse.

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Last year, Calgary was ranked as the seventh most-livable city in the world, according to Economist Intelligence Unit.

The economy has also been expanding, with growth in the tech sector, aviation industry, film and television, and in energy.

The Conference Board of Canada forecasts the city’s population grew by 71,200 newcomers last year, while the economy is expected to expand by two per cent in 2024.

The previous tag line, Be Part of the Energy, was initially touted in a marketing campaign by CED and then-mayor Naheed Nenshi in 2011, as they aimed to bring new workers and businesses to the community.

It proved so popular that the city later adopted it, jettisoning the old slogan — Heart of the New West — which had been posted on signs, with a cowboy hat, welcoming newcomers to the city since the turn of the millennium.

Previous monikers and slogans for the city over the years have included The White Hat City, Stampede City, Calgary: Gateway to the Rockies and City of the Foothills, according to a 2015 column by Calgary Herald journalist Michele Jarvie.

It was time for a change in 2024, said Ady.

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“I would say a good refresh button is important,” she said. “The Calgary of today isn’t the Calgary of yesterday.”

AnneMarie Dorland, an assistant professor who teaches marketing and branding at Mount Royal University, said the old tag line “pigeon-holed the city as being an oil and gas capital” while the new brand also speaks to the essence of what makes Calgary special.

“It could really stick,” Dorland said.

“It’s easy. It has a good amount of sticky elements . . . they may have just threaded the needle between what people want, and what people hate, in a really nice way. I’m impressed.”

Parry noted that in CED’s latest annual survey conducted in other centres across Canada, the United States and Europe, it found a drop in favourable external impressions among business leaders and workers — including double-digit declines around views about Calgary being a diverse and inclusive city.

“We’ve had a fragmented brand . . . we haven’t been able to tell the stories from everyone to bring that forward,” he added.

“We need to make sure people understand what’s really happening here.”

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