By Kathy K. Martin
The public service announcements are edgy; some are even comical. Better yet, political correctness takes a backseat to raw honesty.
And that’s why Jackson-based marketing, public relations and corporate communications firm, The Cirlot Agency, believes that its “Mississippi, Believe It!” public service campaign serves its purpose. It creatively confronts all those longstanding stereotypes that have plagued the state for many years through movies and being the butt of jokes.
The posters feature headlines such as, “Yes, we wear shoes. A few of us even wear cleats,” which touts the many legendary football players from the state, and “Meet a Few of Our New Good Ole Boys,” which highlights the many African-American elected officials in the state, more than any other state in the country, as well as women and Native Americans in high positions.
Not unlike many other interesting ideas, the campaign was born about six years ago when Rick Looser, president and chief operating officer of The Cirlot Agency, had a chance conversation when he was seated next to a young boy from Connecticut on an airplane.
When the boy heard that Looser was from Mississippi, he immediately asked if he saw the Ku Klux Klan in his neighborhood and if he hated all black people. Coming not long after a similar discussion at a business writers’ meeting about the state’s image, the questions were both a slap in the face and a call to action.
Looser returned to work and immediately gained support from the agency’s staff to tackle the issue the best way they knew how – through the creative process.
“The state has so much to offer here, but nobody knows about it,” explains Looser, “so with the agency celebrating its 20th anniversary that year, we saw the campaign as our gift to the state, a thank-you for being a part of a place where you can do good business and raise a family.”
After tossing around many ideas, Looser and his staff decided that the best approach would be to be both candid and informative: “We really thought that we had to address the 800-pound gorilla that was sitting in the room and that was all the stereotypes. We decided to dispel each one with intelligent ammunition.” He estimates that the agency has spent more than $365,000 of its own time and money on the 14 announcements, which include three new ads debuted late last year.
With a $40,000 printing and paper donation from Service Printers of Flowood, the agency began in 2005 the process of distributing all the posters to media outlets and every school, college and university throughout the state.
The posters were also sent to the nation’s top 100 daily newspapers, top consumer Web sites and news, travel, business and economic magazines. The reaction was almost immediate. “AP (Associated Press) ran a story and pretty soon we were seeing the posters all over, from Tuscaloosa to Taiwan,” Looser reports. The campaign was also featured on NBC’s Today Show last spring, as well as in many other well-known newspapers, magazines and radio programs.
In addition to all the free publicity and generation of goodwill, another positive result of the campaign was its impact on children. Many schools used the posters as teachable moments, such as one English teacher who employed the poster about Mississippi’s famous writers to engage students in reading their books and identifying their photos with their written work.
Blake Wilson, president of the Mississippi Economic Council (MEC), the state’s chamber of commerce, said that the campaign is a huge success with its membership and it continues to include the posters on its Web site: “This was good news to promote great things in our state and a great donation by The Cirlot Agency.”
In keeping with its public service emphasis, the posters are also available in a downloadable format on the Web site, www.mississippibelieveit.com at no charge. Future costs to the campaign are offset by an online store where merchandise such as T-shirts, caps and other gift items can be purchased to support the effort.
Looser says Mississippians’ personal stories about the positive impact of the campaign are his greatest reward. Now that Mississippi believes the great news, perhaps the rest of the world can, too.
(Reprinted with permission from DeSoto Magazine)
Mississippi, Believe It! Public service campaign tackles stereotypes, scores win for the state
By Kathy K. Martin