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If Mississippi can boost image, so can Detroit

By Desiree Cooper
Detroit Free Press
Close your eyes and tell me what this word conjures up:
Mississippi.
“Dumb, overweight, racist,” said Rick Looser, a Mississippi businessman. “If you look on any bad list – the worst in prenatal care, the fattest, the least money spent on education – we’re number one. If you look on any good list, we’re number 50.”
It’s no fun to drag around a negative image. I should know: I’m from Detroit.
You are what you think
But unlike me and most Detroiters who grouse about it but do nothing, Looser decided to fight fire with fire.
He developed a media campaign that’s aimed at polishing the state’s image.
Looser isn’t even from Mississippi originally. He’s from Alabama, about which he says, “If you took down the
‘Welcome to Alabama’ sign, no one would know the difference.”
As chief operating officer of The Cirlot Agency, a PR firm, he was showing some clients around the gulf coast about five years ago when one client commented that he hadn’t realized any publicly traded companies were headquartered in Mississippi.
“That’s when WorldCom was the darling of Wall Street,” Looser said. “It was so clear that people had no idea who we are.”
The final straw was in 2002, when Looser struck up a conversation with a 12-year-old Connecticut boy on a plane. The boy asked Looser whether he still saw the KKK on the streets every day and whether he hated all black people.
“That’s all he ever saw on TV,” said Looser, 45.
That was the beginning of “Mississippi, Believe It!”– a statewide public service campaign to help everyone,
especially Mississippi natives, see the state in a more balanced light. The ads can be seen at
www.mississippibelieveit.com.
“There was a time when our reputation was well-deserved,” Looser said. “But a lot has changed here. It’s time to address the stereotyping.”
Like in this ad: “Yes, we can read. A few of us can even write.” It features legendary authors like Tennessee
Williams, William Faulkner and Richard Wright, all Mississippi natives.
Or the one that says “Meet a few of our new good ole boys,” explaining that Mississippi has more black elected officials than any other state in the country.
What I love about the campaign is its self-deprecating humor, coupled with stunning facts bound to make you
question what you really know about the state. Looser’s company has dedicated more than $275,000 to the campaign, which has gained national attention since it began in December 2005.
The greatest love of all

“We started it as an in-state, pride-building campaign,” Looser said. “Until we feel better about ourselves, we can’t ask anyone else to feel differently.”
Detroiters could learn a lot from one man who decided that he couldn’t change the world, just how everyone looks at a specific corner of it.
I’ve got good news for him. On the list of “Places with the Poorest Self-Esteem,” Mississippi is no longer number one.
We are.
Contact Desiree Cooper at 313-222-6625 or dcooper@freepress.com.

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