Negev Towns Launch PR Offensive as IDF Moves Its Bases South

Southern Israeli towns are trying to attract IDF officers and their families as potential residents.

Cities large and small in the Negev are launching PR campaigns to attract officers who will be heading south in the next few years as the army moves its training bases.

All the area's communities are vying for their share, since standing-army soldiers and their families are considered desirable residents who will boost the south's economy.

"Any city that retains its old image will lose a strong, quality population," said Zvika Aloush, a media consultant working with several cities in the south.

So the southern cities are battling each other, with each trying to stress its advantages. Whether army officers will prefer "the pleasant, comfortable weather" being touted by Ofakim or "the fact that we're on the world's tourist route," as Arad claims, remains to be seen.

After two years of work, the Be'er Sheva municipality this week launched its rebranding campaign; it touts the city as "Israel's capital of opportunities."

Some Be'er Sheva officials admit that the murder last month of Gadi Vichman, who was stabbed by teens he was trying to quiet down in the middle of the night, might make it harder to promote the city as a leader in culture, art and education. There have been other violent incidents, too, but city officials remain confident.

The Merage Foundation, a consortium of private family foundations that focuses on the Negev, is helping cities other than Be'er Sheva fund their campaigns. The foundation, which has signed an agreement with the Shir Spitzer agency, started its efforts in Ofakim and is now working with Arad, Mitzpeh Ramon and Yeruham.

"We want to show the country's residents what's unique about each Negev community; what makes it special, as well as its options and opportunities," said the Merage Foundation's director, Naama Dahan. "We're starting a process that in the end will reach every local authority so there can be full branding of the Negev communities."

Zvi Greengold, who heads the government-appointed committee running Ofakim, said the city is touting its proximity to both the center of the country and Be'er Sheva. And of course there's the sunny weather.

"Maybe some of the families that will be serving in the region will think of us as a pretty good option for raising children in a warm and safe atmosphere," said Greengold.

In Arad, residents have been actively involved in the process. The team in charge of branding interviewed influential residents, which resulted in a report on how to go about rebranding. The report recommended public input, a consistent design motif and integrating the brand into public events.

"The process of branding Arad is essentially a decision about where the city wants to go in the long term. That's why it was very important to involve the residents," said Arad Mayor Tali Ploskov.

"We know that Arad has incredible advantages that can't be found elsewhere - the view, the air, the good people, the fact that we're on world tourism routes. I believe that clearly profiling the city and its benefits will spark tourism and continue the momentum of settling in the city."

Media consultant Aloush says branding the southern cities is critical. The Israel Defense Forces' huge bases will bring in thousands of families "who haven't the foggiest notion about the Negev - about the high level of education available in many of the towns, or about the transportation infrastructure being upgraded. Basically, what they know is what they read and hear in the media.

"A city or town that properly brands itself as a young community with great schools will generate more interest from new families, and it will be easier for the mayors to bring them in."

Despite the recent violent incidents, Mayor Ruvik Danilovich is bullish on Be'er Sheva.

"Our city has an increasingly positive image along with a successful brand. A city with a positive image attracts entrepreneurs who create jobs and improve the quality of life," Danilovich said.

"The Israeli government has identified the potential in Be'er Sheva, as have investors, entrepreneurs and high-tech companies from Israel and abroad. All have seen the potential and the opportunity that Be'er Sheva offers."