Norwalk Now launches to provide marketing and publicity to city’s businesses

Kevin Zimmerman, Fairfield County Business Journal

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A marketing organization dedicated to promoting and supporting the businesses that makeup Norwalk’s “urban core” districts is being launched this summer.

Norwalk Now is designed to be a fully integrated marketing, public relations, event management, and social media company that will manage a comprehensive website, interactive social media platforms, an active event calendar, email marketing and a news outlet highlighting participating businesses. Participants will include restaurants, retail stores and recreational and entertainment venues.

Named after the city’s progressive approach, Norwalk Now is the brainchild of Kathryn Hebert, director of the Norwalk Parking Authority, who said that unlike similar efforts, the new organization is designed to be “in it for the long haul.”

“There have been a number of attempts over the years to provide support for our businesses, but they were usually one-offs due to a lack of collaboration, time and mostly funding,” Hebert said.

“A lot of efforts by the city and businesses involving a great deal of time and effort would result in a single event … and if people couldn’t make it, that was it. This will be much more sustainable and comprehensive.”

The goal is to energize the SoNo, West Avenue and Wall Street districts to promote, in the words of its newly launched website, “the heartbeat of a New York City suburb featuring the vibrant retail, dining, entertainment, and recreational lifestyle of a thriving coastal community.”

The effort is being bankrolled by the Norwalk Parking Authority in the amount of $100,000 this fiscal year, which began on July 1, and another $100,000 next fiscal year, after which the agency will again apply for approval of additional marketing expenditures going forward.

Hebert emphasized that all of the Parking Authority’s revenues are derived from parking fees. “There is absolutely no taxpayer subsidy involved at all” in the marketing effort, she said.

The Parking Authority intends to continue as an investor and underwriter of Norwalk Now, with the goal that the organization ultimately become self-sustaining as a collaborative downtown marketing program, Hebert said. The Parking Authority director said she first proposed what became Norwalk Now about 18 months ago “to emphasize the importance of establishing an economic driver for our key districts.”

“Everybody got it,” she said, noting that it still took until late August for Norwalk Now to become a reality “as, like everything else in government, it takes time to finalize these things.”

Active participants in Norwalk Now will pay what Hebert described as “a nominal fee” to cover operating expenses. Among the benefits offered businesses are inclusion under the Norwalk Now brand by way of print, digital, broadcast and event marketing; access to public relations support; regional and national media placement opportunities; event inclusion and promotion; a dedicated full business page on the website; and calendar, email marketing, and social media inclusion.A bi-monthly newsletter will keep consumers up to date on the latest happenings from participating businesses, with additional support from Norwalk Now social media platforms.

The marketing and public relations component is being overseen by MaxEx Public Relations LLC, a Stamford agency that works principally with restaurant and hospitality clients. Linda Kavanagh, founder and president of MaxEx, said the initiative for Norwalk businesses will be designed to “enhance their existing marketing programs if they have one.And if they don’t have P.R. or marketing, this is the next best thing to hiring their own publicist.”

The cost of such an effort, Kavanagh said, would typically be a few thousand dollars per month for a business, but it will be a few hundred dollars through Norwalk Now. “It’s crazy low,” she said of the cost.

Both Kavanagh and Hebert said that business owners’ response so far has been enthusiastic — and Greer Fredericks, the owner of the recently opened Peaches Southern Pub and Juke Joint at 7 Wall St., agreed.

“Anytime you can get this kind of support is exciting,” Fredericks said. “There are so many great businesses and restaurants here that most people just don’t know about. There are also a lot of up-and-coming restaurants coming in. This will really help get eyes on what’s happening in Norwalk.”

“It’s pretty exciting to have one place where people can go to find out what’s happening in Norwalk,” said Mike Heslin, owner of Pedego Electric Bikes SoNo at 50 Water St. North. “So many times I’ve spoken with people who think there’s nothing to do in Norwalk. This should go a long way to correcting that.”