The Choteau Chamber of Commerce last week agreed to partner with two economic development boards and Choteau-area businesses to put up the local match needed to secure a grant from the Montana Department of Commerce to build a digital marketing toolkit that all businesses would be encouraged to use in their advertising.

Meeting July 31 at John Henry’s restaurant, Chamber members voted to donate $100 toward the match fund and to encourage individual chamber members to come up with $900 more for a total of $1,000. Chamber secretary Jennifer French will notify chamber members via email this week of the request for funding.

The Choteau Area Port Authority (CAPA) has pledged $1,300 toward the match and the Choteau Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) is also taking up the question of donating to the project.

CAPA Board Chairwoman Mary Sexton presented the funding request to the chamber general membership meeting, saying that seeking this grant is the next thing Choteau businesses need to do to improve the local economy by using a unified marketing approach that gives Choteau a recognizable brand.

Sexton said she will write the grant application for $12,000, of which the Choteau community would need to provide a $4,000 match to the state’s $8,000 input.

If Choteau receives the grant, she said, the next step would be to work with a business or individual who specializes in marketing and branding to develop the toolkit. Some possible options would include Wendt Advertising of Great Falls, which helped design the website and gave quotes for what the toolkit would cost; Lightning Bug Public Relations of Augusta, which works with some chamber members now; or the Choteau Acantha, which provides print and online advertising for businesses in the area.

The grant would potentially fund development of the toolkit, including colors, fonts, tag lines and promotional messaging for specific targets; target audience identification; production of marketing assets like advertisements, banners, special promotions; and possibly placing ads and marketing campaigns particularly in the digital media market.

“Over the past 20-30 years, groups and businesses in the Choteau area have marketed the community, often without a common theme and purpose,” Sexton wrote in an email to amenity-based businesses.

Sexton said the CAPA has sent out this email to restaurants, motels, gas stations and outfitters — some of whom aren’t chamber members — soliciting support for the grant, and has heard back from only a couple who support the project.

The same email was sent to Choteau chamber members.

In the past three years, Choteau businesses and individuals have been working with renewed energy on marketing and branding, Sexton said. Out of that energy has come the formation of the TBID and the CAPA; the creation of the website; participation in a community assessment through the Montana Economic Developers Association; the development of the spring bird migration festival, a two-day summer yoga retreat, a fall workshop with the University of Montana, and work on a winter-time rendezvous of some sort; and the development of two videos that will promote Choteau online as a great place to start a business or raise a family.

The next step to make sure Choteau’s economy continues to improve, is to secure this grant — which would do more at $20,000, but $12,000 is seen as a more realistic number to obtain. The deadline to apply for the grant is in August, and if the community receives the funding, Sexton said, they could work on the toolkit over the winter and have the material ready for businesses to use in their advertising by spring for summer events.

At last week’s chamber meeting, Sexton encouraged members to take some time and look at the digital marketing efforts of Fort Benton, Phillipsburg and Red Lodge, for example. Most small communities are using their digital presence on websites and social media to market their communities, she said.

Speaking in support of the chamber helping to raise funds for the grant match, Sally Haas, who represents the Choteau Soroptimists and her family’s business, A Lazy H Outfitting, said this grant would help all chamber members and would provide value to those businesses for their chamber membership.

Chamber member Steve Dogiakos, who represents Golden Triangle Goods and is a member of CAPA said the toolkit developed through the grant would benefit more than just amenity based businesses like hotels, restaurants and gas stations. The assets in the toolkit — fonts, colors, tag lines — could be integrated into any business’s advertising, he said.

Chamber, TBID and CAPA could provide information on how the kit could be used to local businesses so they would receive value from the package, he said.

Tom Frownfelder, chamber president and a member of the TBID, said the branding and marketing project is needed to keep the focus on economic improvement moving forward. As Choteau seeks to improve its tourism revenue, he said, businesses here are responding, working to give tourists more to do here. For example, he said, Buck’s Sporting Goods is planning to offer canoe rentals during the summer months.

Sexton said that if the community is successful in getting this grant, a second phase of the marketing and branding project would be for the community to have a consistent marketing plan that it put into effect every year.

“We need to have ongoing promotion, marketing of the community through the businesses and through the three organizations, TBID, Port Authority and Chamber,” she said.

Annie Olson, representing Benefis Teton Medical Center Foundation, said she would support adding an extra $100 onto the hospital’s chamber dues if that money could be earmarked for spending on community marketing that included the hospital.

Sexton said the chamber could discuss doing that so that there would be a pool of money available for promotions after this toolkit is built. Having a pool of say $4,000 a year for annual marketing would go a long way toward helping Choteau raise its profile among tourists and people who might want to relocate here or start a business here, she said.

Chamber member Cliff Heuscher, who represents the Rocky Mountain Front Farmers Market, was not convinced that the toolkit is the next step. “I think you have the cart before the horse,” he said. Heuscher, who voted against the grant application, said he thinks the chamber, TBID and CAPA should have a marketing strategy spelled out first and should have buy-in of the Choteau business community to use the toolkit once it is produced.

“I think you have to figure out before you start spending all this money, what you’re going to be advertising for — what and who,” he said. “I’m all for getting people to come to Choteau, but I’m a little old fashioned and trying to be a little realistic.”