A new media campaign launched by the nonprofit St. Louis Civic Pride Foundation on Thursday is encouraging St. Louisans to tell their "positive and authentic" stories about the region on social media.
The "Take Pride in St. Louis" campaign features a website where people can share their stories, as well as broadcast and print ads of St. Louis celebrities like Bob Costas, Joe Buck and Jackie Joyner-Kersee extolling the region's virtues.
The campaign is aimed at the 2.8 million people in the bi-state region, including several southwestern Illinois counties, which Ellen Krohne of the Leadership Council of Southwestern Illinois said is "part of the history and fabric of the St. Louis region."
Foundation Chairman Kim Tucci said the goal is to inspire all of those residents to become ambassadors for the region.
"We’re not educating tourists or meeting planners; we’re educating people who live in the St. Louis region to eliminate negativity and really accentuate the positive," Tucci said. "That’s our goal: for the people who live here to be proud of the St. Louis region as a great place to live, work and play."
St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger agreed.
"This campaign is about believing in our region, believing in our community," he said. "We hope if you believe as I do that this is the best place in the world to live, you have to tell people about it."
The campaign comes almost a year after events in Ferguson placed a harsh spotlight on the St. Louis region, and shortly before the one year anniversary of Michael Brown's death and the protests and riots that followed.
Tucci said the campaign was not designed in response to those events or the attention St. Louis received, and that the foundation developed the idea before last August.
"We knew what we wanted to do back in 2011," he said. "We were before the fact, no question about that."
Still, John Beck, general manager of Emmis Communications and board member of the Missouri Broadcasters Association, said in a video presented Thursday that last year was "a very difficult time for positive messaging for the St. Louis region."
"While the issues that came out of Ferguson are very important, the headlines both locally and nationally overshadowed so much of the good that happens here all the time," he said. "As a result it’s been a very trying time for the St. Louis regional business community."
But the way the community is responding after those same events "brought to light challenges and opportunities" will be part of the campaign's message, according to Joe Reagan, president of the St. Louis Regional Chamber, one of the funding organizations.
"Having those challenges doesn’t mean that we still don’t have a strong, very important, positive message to show to the world, and we believe from the Chamber’s standpoint that part of that message is how we are facing challenges, issues and struggles head on, bringing people together to find solutions that will not only will be good for St. Louis, but for our nation," he said.
He agreed with Beck that it's been "difficult" for local businesses, but that this campaign could help future regional development by attracting and retaining more people, something he says has been a challenge for the business community.
"If we’re not able to share our story enthusiastically, authentically, with people who are in our social networks, then how can we actually, when people don’t know about St. Louis who aren’t here, how can they understand what this community is about and how can we invite more people here?" he said. "We've got to change who we are. We've got to get better at being a welcoming, inclusive community that has opportunities for all our citizens, but we also have to be able to invite others to join us."
Still, as the St. Louis region faces racial tensions and a high crime rate, others involved in the campaign considered how it could come across to residents.
Kathleen "Kitty" Ratcliffe of the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, which is part of the collaborative funding the campaign, said every community has its issues.
"There are really smart people and a lot of people in our community who are addressing those in different ways and working on them, but that doesn’t mean we have to focus on the negative," she said, "and it doesn’t mean we focus on the positive to the exclusion of the negative. It’s okay to talk about both...We have a great community. We love it, we live in it. And we just need to tell people that it’s okay to say that."
Tucci said the Civic Pride Foundation has also addressed serious issues facing St. Louis, such as the "terrible" crime rate, in previous campaigns.
"If you have 10 points and eight of them are bad, if you really concentrate and exaggerate your effort on two of them, you get three, then four and five," he said. "That's what you got to do. You don’t want to take anything away from the community, you want to add to the community."
Moreover, Tucci said he hopes the work people are doing in St. Louis to address major problems will be some of stories shared through the campaign.
As for why St. Louis needs a campaign to inspire its residents to show their civic pride, both Ratcliffe and Reagan cited Midwestern humility. Tucci said people just needed "a venue" to share these stories.
"People pick up on that momentum and it starts pyramiding, and when they see this, more pyramiding," he said. "One thing feeds off the other and once you get a nucleus, then it's so easy for everybody else to follow suit."
St. Louis Public Radio is one of the broadcast organizations participating in the campaign.