As she watched 30 M2 (Madison Street Merchants) members squeeze into Chix With Stix last Wednesday, Tonya Hart from Two Fish was impatient to get the meeting started. Her excitement wasn’t caused by the caffeine in the Blue Max coffee or the sugar in the Krispy Kreme donuts. It was because, after six months of work, M2 finally had a brand for Forest Park and a marketing plan in which to use it.

Created by McLeod-Smith Graphics with input by M2 members, the brand logo is simply the letters F and P, much like you would see embroidered on a baseball cap. The name Forest Park along with the tagline, “urban suburban,” and an optional copper rectangular background.

Why did it take six months to come up with two letters? First, the group wanted a brand logo that was instantly recognizable, differentiated from other logos, easy to reproduce and adaptable to a variety of advertising formats and media.

In addition, there had to be truth in advertising”what you find when you visit Madison Street has to match the expectations raised by the ad that attracted you. Hart pointed out that there are almost no chain stores on Madison Street.

“We’re all independent,” she said. “Oak Park has gotten so corporate.” That is the kind of reality the merchants want to communicate.

When the logo was unveiled, there was an almost instantaneous consensus in the group that they had finally found what they were looking for. The stylized F and P are very recognizable and do not look like the graphics used by other Western Suburbs.

The tagline, urban suburban, felt to the merchants like it communicated that Forest Park feels like a Chicago neighborhood, yet it has many of the advantages of suburban communities and is accessible from them.

In addition, M2 members wanted the logo to convey what Jay Boeldt from Plan B Gallery calls a “techno-organic” edginess. For example, the bottoms of the F and P are cut off at an angle and the background color used is earthy, and even dirty.

The development of the logo required half a year to create, as a brand without a marketing plan is worthless. That’s what got Hart even more excited. The advertising committee had come up with a bold marketing strategy costing around $50,000. The tentative breakdown included advertising in Chicago Magazine, local newspaper advertising, WBEZ Business Supporter advertising, an advertising blitz on WXRT, ads in the Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine, T shirts, hats and bumper stickers.

Heidi Vance from Team Blonde responded to the presentation by saying, “That’s less money than we spent as a group last year, and we’re doing so much more with it.” Denise Norton from Flav’our Cooking School added, “It gives us more bang for the buck.”

Carole Goddard from McAdam helped ensure the group that the money was going to be spent to promote Forest Park as a whole and not individual businesses. Hart explained that instead of advertising individual businesses, the idea was to market the whole business district, increase foot traffic and thereby benefit everyone”sort of a “rising tide lifts all boats” way of looking at it.

At that point Cece Hardacker contributed a testimony. “I’m cheap,” she laughed, “so when Tonya talked about Two Fish spending thousands of dollars to advertise in the Chicago Magazine I hesitantly went along with it. But one day a lady from Lincolnshire came in and spent $10,000. She had read our ad and drove all the way to Forest Park. I’m a believer.”

Art Sundry from caffe De Luca changed the subject and raised the question of “how are we going to pay for this?” He asked the group, “How many of you will be willing to spend $75 to $100 a month for two years to fund this project?” Every hand in the room went up, including that of Connie Brown who said, “I run an ice cream shop and we don’t sell $10,000 ice cream cones, but I’m all for it because it will increase foot traffic on the street.”

The finance committee presented two proposals for funding the marketing strategy. The proposals included membership dues, benefits to members, invovlement of the Village, the Chamber and the Main Street Redevelopment Association, and tracking membership. Financing seems to be the piece that needs the most work at this point. The group acknowledged that the Village has just spent a lot of money on its “Big City Access, Small Town Charm” logo, which was recently placed on the new Forest Park flag, and committed themselves to coordinating efforts with village officials.

As the merchants headed out the door to open their stores for business, Denise Norton summed up the group’s mood, saying, “I’m going to be part of this organization that is going to blow this village out.”