Eliza Doolittle had a professor. Mary Ann and Ginger had one, too. Now, Webster City will have its very own professor, too.
Professor Webster is the new Webster City marketing spokesman who will be featured in television commercials all over the state in hopes of continuing to attract tourism dollars to the community.
For the past few years, the Chamber of Commerce has been running a series of commercials which were created with the help of Webster City area residents. Those ads highlighted shopping, cultural elements, outdoor attractions, dining and history. All of them featured the tag line. "Webster City, you'll love it. We do." Grants provided by Hotel/Motel tax funds have helped the Chamber finance the messages.
Professor Webster as portrayed by Webster City’s own Al Yungclas. Yungclas will be featured in a series of new television ads promoting Webster City as well as printed materials. Professor Webster will tout the recreational, shopping and dining attractions the community has to offer, according to Webster City Chamber officials.
"We started looking at where we were with our commercials. They needed to be a little bit updated and we considered which direction we should go with our marketing plan," said Carrie Fitzgerald, executive director of the Webster City Chamber of Commerce.
Fitzgerald said there has been some concern that Webster City doesn't have that one thing to hook visitors - like the world's largest frying pan, covered bridges or some other attraction.
"But we have great things here to promote," she said. "So we said what if we came up with a character who could promote and portray some of the things we have in the community that could set us apart."
Fitzgerald said they didn't see other communities promoting everything in the community rather than individual events or attractions.
"The 'Webster City, You'll Love It' was the original campaign. Those commercials and that theme is still running. We still like that theme, but it was time to do something fresh and new," said Kent Bailey, OHP Marketing.
Bailey said they kicked around ideas and came up with a real family approach to the campaign.
"But perhaps it was a little milquetoast," he said. So they headed back to the drawing board to brainstorm more ideas.
"We started kicking it around - Webster, Webster City, Webster's Dictionary, Professor Webster, library, Pulitzer prize winners..." he said. They also took inspiration from a prop used in the recent Webster City Community Theatre musical, "Once Upon a Mattress" - an enormous story book.
"It was this giant book and that took us to 'Webster City wrote the book on ,'" he said, explaining the process that led to the birth of Professor Webster. Bailey said he could think of only one person to play the role of Professor Webster.
"In my mind, this character was always Al (Yungclas)," he said. "He was the first person to come to mind to serve as the tourism guide to Webster City. This character had to be unique and interesting," Bailey said.
Bailey and Fitzgerald called Yungclas into a meeting where they pitched the idea. Yungclas, a veteran actor and director with the Webster City Community Theatre, readily agreed to the gig.
Once Yungclas was on board, the group went to working developing the character of Professor Webster. They started to look at ways to present some of the community offerings in a new light.
"They'll still see information on history, shopping, outdoor recreation and dining - those things haven't changed - but we think this will present them in a fresh new way with Professor Webster," Bailey said. "He finds himself falling into these characters of history, recreation, shopping and dining. Al did a great job with it."
Today is the official launch for the Professor Webster campaign. The commercials begin running and are posted on the Chamber of Commerce website, www.visitwebstercityia.com. Information will also be posted on the Chamber's social media pages. Four commercials were filmed one day in September and will run in the Central Iowa, Ames, Des Moines and Marshalltown television markets.
Since the ads are designed to draw people to Webster City, local residents may not see as much of the ol' professor as others around the state. But Fitzgerald said it was important for local businesses, employees and area residents to have a good understanding about the character because visitors will ask questions about him.
"With cross marketing, we've already developed some posters that we're putting out. We're working on some brochure racks that will be large and prominent - possibly cardboard cutouts. We'll also use our local media to get the word out to the community about who Professor Webster is," she said.
"We want everybody to be interested and excited about this," she said. "I could also see this character portrayed in a variety of different ways, and possibly some marketing promotional items that could be developed as well," Fitzgerald said.
Yungclas searched through the costume racks at the community theater to find a suitable outfit for the character. He found a tweed suit and matching hat which seemed to lend itself to the professor's image.
"Our goal is that we can really make Professor Webster a brand for Webster City. This is such a fun character and I think we can take the concept anywhere we want to take it," Bailey said.
"We want people to associate Professor Webster with the community," he said.