Last week, as part of my regular column for Forbes, I wrote a piece called “St. Louis Doesn’t Suck” that struck a nerve with a number of current and former St. Louisans, as more than 120,000 people had read it as of this post.
Clearly, something clicked.
I had moved here six years ago and was perplexed by our region’s inability to tell those outside of St. Louis that it was a great place to live and work. So, about four years ago, I pitched much of the structural marketing tenants of St. Louis Doesn’t Suck to someone who was in a position to actually do something about it. His response: “Let me tell you why you couldn’t be more wrong.”
He just didn’t get it. It was an insular reaction from someone in a region that has historically behaved in an insular manner.
And if we do, in fact, want to tell the outside world about the strengths of St. Louis, to get new companies to move here, keep home grown talent here, and have young people graduate from college and flock to the region — we need to erase this mindset. We need to forget our region’s history of inactivity and demonstrated unwillingness to collaborate, and create a new model.
And for now, all I can say is — we’re working on a true community effort, for the people by the people. Elasticity will play a role, but hopefully, so will thousands of other St. Louisans.
Below is my my post from Forbes.
I’ve lived a somewhat nomadic existence in my adult life, moving from Richmond to Miami to New Orleans to New York to Raleigh to St. Petersburg. Six years ago my wife and I reluctantly moved to St. Louis but very quickly found it to be a great place to live, work, and raise small people.
St. Louis has its problems like anywhere else, but there’s a lot to like: good schools, nice parks, great public institutions, competitive sports teams, strong corporate base, the world’s largest mustache (Gateway Arch), and plenty of places that make delicious beer.
First there was a farcical piece in The Onion that the Labor Department reported 4 million new U.S. jobs in October, “though government officials hastened to add that the new positions are all located in the St. Louis…” I love The Onion but it essentially delivers the underlying message that people outside of “The Lou” think it’s not so hot.
Then there was something a bit uglier. Yahoo! Health reported St. Louis to be among the 10 saddest cities in America based on suicide and unemployment rates, the percentage of households that use antidepressants, and other factors.
I’ve got to believe St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, the Regional Chamber & Growth Association (RCGA), or St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley can’t like pieces like these.
The trouble being that nearly every political or civic entity in the region working to fix metro-St. Louis’ reputation is doing it on their own, in a silo, with little coordination with other partners. There have been some quiet efforts to galvanize private sector forces, but nothing has materialized primarily due to the political infighting that seemingly lies beneath the surface.
Why do you think that despite being a relatively safe place to live, St. Louis crime statistics are listed by the FBI as being four times higher than the national average and the city is routinely noted as one of America’s most dangerous? It’s because as the city and surrounding county battle for turf, they refuse to do what most other major metro areas do in combining regional crime statistics which leads to better rankings.
Thank you Mssrs. Slay and Dooley.
So with all of this in mind, as my holiday gift to St. Louis, I’m going to outline a strategy for altering St. Louis’ reputation on the national landscape.
Let’s begin with the foundation — one that’s a bit edgy and disrupts the same conservative Midwestern sensibilities that caused the city to foolishly pass on hosting Red Bull’s popular Flugtag event a few years back.
You see, despite a recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch report citing that the city attracted more young people than it lost for the first time in eons, the city has a long way to go in drawing the younger workforce that leading edge employers crave. And as my partner Brian Cross wrote on his blog, natives are still looking elsewhere for post-graduate jobs.
After all, a recent Stanford or Univ. of Miami graduate doesn’t really care if St. Louis is “Perfectly Centered. Remarkably Connected.” They want to live and work somewhere that has a thriving downtown with a great night life and is perceived to be progressive.
Which brings us to the St. Louis Doesn’t Suck campaign, focusing on delivering four key messages that support any thriving metro area:
Not sucking at all thus far. But now comes the hard part. How do we best deliver these messages? It takes a comprehensive approach that not only touches the manner in which people seek and find information today, but then compels them to take action.
St. Louis Doesn’t Suck harnesses the most meaningful marketing communications channels and surrounds working adults ages 22 to 55, delivering a consistent message that St. Louis has the housing, education, employment and cultural resources that encompass a great place to live, work, visit, and play.
The tools the program leverages include:
St. Louis isn’t perfect — the local style of pizza is horrendous, our NFL football team should not be playing in a dome, the airport is an embarrassment, and the traffic lights aren’t timed. More important, we still struggle to create, attract, and retain more skilled workers. It’s an old-time, Mississippi River-based manufacturing economy that’s yet to fully reinvent itself that last year lost 14 percent of its professional services companies (law firms, architects, ad agencies).
Without question, St. Louis does not suck. But with the exception of one very smart tourism campaign developed by the CVB, we typically do a terrible job of externally articulating what those offerings are.
Perhaps by stepping out of our comfort zone, moving beyond silly turf battles, and developing a comprehensive approach to marketing the area, St. Louis can better promote a region that has much to offer.