Johnson City News

Home More News Johnson City receives Municipal League award for Excellence in Communications

Sept. 1, 2021

Johnson City receives Municipal League award for Excellence in Communications

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Effective communication has always been an important part of effective leadership, and the city of Johnson City demonstrates how marketing, public relations, and keeping the community informed are essential and integral parts of a connected, thriving city. 

In recognition of the city’s top-notch communication and efforts in a new branding campaign, to spread awareness and knowledge amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and initiatives surrounding the city’s sesquicentennial, the Tennessee Municipal League is pleased to present Johnson City with an award for Excellence in Communications. The award will be presented Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, at the 81st Annual Conference of the Tennessee Municipal League (TML) held at the Chattanooga Convention Center.

The Johnson City Community Relations Department transitioned into the new Communications and Marketing Department in 2018. The city’s communications and marketing team has grown from Director Keisha Shoun and digital communications manager J.T. McSpadden to include public information specialist Ann Marie French, information technology communications specialist and city webmaster Wendy Graham, and special events manager Andy Heusier, as well as part-time employee Jarrett McGill, who works on video production. While each member of the team has their own unique set of skills and talents, all wear many hats to ensure quality and efficiency.

Initially with a staff of just two people, the department found itself tackling the first ever branding process for the city amid coordinating media and employee relations on a day-to-day basis, serving in various capacities to aid the Johnson City Board of Commissioners, and representing the city on numerous community boards and commissions. Beginning as a desire for a new city logo, the branding process lasted two years and involved extensive research, a 410-page final report, and a new sense of the city’s identity and direction.

In its third year of brand implementation, the city has adopted stationery, signage, digital profiles, websites, clothing, vehicles, and even trash bins that include the branding logo, colors, fonts, and design elements. The branding initiative also unites the city, downtown authority, and CVB under one distinctive brand that provides cohesion and instant recognition. The brand implementation even earned top honors from the national City-County Marketing Association (3CMA) and has garnered interest from other communities across the nation.

In 2019, the city also celebrated its 150-year history with nearly 60 events ranging from the opening of a 1969 time capsule, a birthday party for the city’s founder, and various contests. The marketing staff developed 150 variations of the city’s logo and marketing pieces to help promote these events as well as developed commemorative merchandise, coordinating the commission-appointed citizen Sesquicentennial Commission and its legacy projects, and opening a Sesquicentennial Headquarters featuring historic memorabilia. The entire project took nearly a year-and-a-half to complete.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, communications became vital for many communities as a way to reach and out and stay connected amid social distancing and stay-at-home orders. The Johnson City communications and marketing staff developed the Mask Up, JC campaign in conjunction with Visit Johnson City and recently won the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association’s award for best PR campaign. The campaign involved coasters for bars and restaurant, signage, banners, and even a photo contest that involved the community and created excitement about the campaign.

The city took advantage of custom masks that were produced by a Tennessee-based company for just $2.50 each, creating seven different branded versions. Shortly after distribution began, masks were spotted at grocery stores, gas stations, and anywhere else that remained open during the pandemic.

At the height of the pandemic, the department produced a video for “Gimme 6 Feet,” a parody of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Gimme Three Steps” to encourage mask wearing and social distancing. The phrase ‘Gimme 6 Feet” was later incorporated into other signs, slogans, and displays tailored to encourage proper health and safety protocols at various places throughout the city. Later came a comic book-inspired video to introduce Senior Center participants to new COVID-safe practices at the newly reopened facility.

The growth and strength of the city’s communications and marketing department is reflected in the growth and strength of Johnson City itself. The work of the department’s staff continues to prove why Johnson City has become an ideal destination to live, work, and play.

Each year the Tennessee Municipal League honors cities throughout the state for overall excellence, improvement, specific outstanding programs, or department accomplishments.  Other award winners for 2021 include the city of Chattanooga for Excellence in Green Leadership; the city of Cleveland for Excellence in Police Services; the town of Dandridge for Small Town Progress; the city of Elizabethton for Excellence in Governance; the city of Fayetteville for Excellence in Community Planning and Development; the city of Franklin for Excellence in Historic Preservation; the city of Hohenwald for Excellence in Fire Services; the city of Kingston for Small City Progress; the city of Mt. Pleasant for Excellence in Strategic Planning; the city of Paris for Excellence in Parks and Recreation; and the city of Rocky Top for Excellence in Finance.


Founded in 1940 and based in Nashville, the Tennessee Municipal League serves as the voice of and advocate for Tennessee’s 345 towns and cities.