By Anika Mitchell Perkins
Visions: For Alumni and Friends of MUW
Mississippi Believe It!–a public service campaign designed by The Cirlot Agency–is changing the mindset of Mississippians and the way the state is viewed.
Alumna Liza Cirlot Looser, founder and CEO of The Cirlot Agency, and her husband, Rick, president/COO, are behind the campaign, which features celebrated Mississippians and notable state history in public service announcements, on posters and on the website.
One cleverly worded advertisement cites: “Yes, we can read. A few of us can even write” with images of writers Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner. Another states: “Yes, we wear shoes. A few of us even wear cleats” with pictures of football greats Brett Favre, Walter Payton and Jerry Rice.
An essential fact about the campaign is that it was created pro bono as a gift to the state from the agency, which celebrated its 20th year in business in 2004.
“We wanted the citizens and businesses to have this campaign because of the hard and fast stereotypes of Mississippi’s people, its business climate and culture. When confronted with one of these stereotypes, it is difficult to encapsulate any type of response that not only answers, but trumps the box in which Mississippi citizens and businesses have been placed by those outside of our state. These ads were designed in a way to dispel those myths,” Liza Looser said.
Research by the Mississippi Development Authority and the state’s chamber of commerce shows that Mississippi still has a negative image, with most people believing that Mississippians are living like they did in the segregated 1950s, according to the Loosers.
“A client of the Agency, speaking with a group of national business writers, learned that the writers believed Mississippi had no publicly traded companies, when in fact, Mississippi is home to several,” Liza Looser said. “This misconception, among other similar experiences, was the catalyst for the Agency’s creation of this widely varied campaign.”
After months of research and meetings with prominent citizens across the state, the Agency determined the first step in changing Mississippi’s perception was to change that of its own citizens.
The first priority was to educate hundreds of thousands of children in the state by sending posters of the public service announcement to every public and private school in the state, including public and private colleges and universities.
“One of the main goals of this campaign was to educate our children that being from Mississippi is not a disadvantage,” she said.
Next they enlisted help from the news media through face-to-face meetings and presenting the campaign before its debut. Rick Looser met with the executive board of the Mississippi Press Association, which represents all daily and weekly newspapers. Following that meeting, the MPA sent an email to publishers supporting the campaign, asking them to run the ads in their newspapers.
“Our objective was to make as large of an impact as possible through the public service announcements and a website, with absolutely no budget,” Liza Looser said. “We wanted to accomplish this by telling our story through the media and to have a viral marketing and grassroots-initiated effort.”
More than 1,000 sets of the posters were mailed to schools within Mississippi after they received support from the State Department of Education.
“Since those posters were sent, the Agency has had dozens of requests from teachers at schools wanting additional posters to use in each classroom. Teachers are using the posters as lessons for their students,” she said.
Liza Looser added that the media response has exceeded their expectations.
“The Cirlot Agency did not have a budget to pay for media placement of the public service announcements. The Mississippi Press Association urged publishers statewide to donate space to run the campaign. Since its release to the media in December 2005, newspapers and publications have donated hundreds of column inches to running the public service announcements.”
The website, www.mississippibelieveit.com, also has been extremely successful. They surpassed their original goal of 200,000 visits to the website with more than 1,100,000 unique users from all 50 states and 22 countries.
While the campaign has experienced much success, there were some challenges.
“There was no budget allotted for this campaign because The Cirlot Agency did this pro bono. This campaign took a tremendous amount of time and money to produce,” Liza Looser said.
Service Printers, one of the Agency’s vendors, donated more than $20,000 in time and materials to print the posters associated with the campaign. The Cirlot Agency invested more than $170,000 in time and also paid over $10,000 in cash to purchase shipping tubes for the posters going to schools as well as postage cost.
The Agency faced a moral challenge as well. “We had many businesses and people who wanted to take part in this campaign by donating their money to make it happen. Essentially, we could have recouped the $170,000 in time by selling corporate sponsorships as part of the campaign,” Liza Looser said. “As tempting as it was, we made the right decision not to have this campaign subsidized by corporate America.”
From a practitioner’s standpoint, she said the campaign has been a dream project and noted an email from a Long Beach resident, which stated, “I really needed a boost about our state this morning. I drove Highway 90 to work and cried the whole way, wondering if I should move my family away from all this devastation. You have reminded me why I love this state. Thank you. Keep up the good work.”
Not a bad feat for the Moss Point native who started her company with only a $78 tax return check. Today the firm has grown to be a multi-million dollar corporation that services accounts ranging from publicly traded companies to financial institutions and manufacturing corporations on a national and international basis.
Liza Looser, who graduated from MUW in 1980, also is a recent graduate of Harvard Business School.
During a recent conversation with a MUW classmate about Homecoming, she said, “Our professors expected the best from us while we were students and also as graduates—to contribute, do good work and make a difference—no matter if that encompasses a single household or the rest of the world.”
Her husband has made a name for himself in the world of public relations as well.
A graduate of the University of Alabama, he worked through the ranks and has led efforts in public relations, branding and advocacy for such clients as Northrop Grumman, Sherwin Williams, Raytheon, Boeing, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Cingular and McKesson and Transplant Pharmacy Coalition.
The Loosers have two children, 15-year-old Reagan and 14-year-old Tripp.
Mississippi Believe It! Campaign Targets Misconceptions About State
By Anika Mitchell Perkins