St. Louisans think their hometown is a pretty cool place, even if the rest of the world isn't so sure. A new marketing effort hopes to tap into the ideas, and the money, of everyday residents to better market the city.
The marketing firm Elasticity is behind the effort called Rally St. Louis, which debuts this week. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/ZeIgAv ) reports that Rally will to market St. Louis in a variety of ways including videos posted online, statues and a festival.
The idea originated from a blog post Elasticity's Aaron Perlut wrote a year ago for Forbes that responded to frequent stories and studies about St. Louis' problems. Perlut laid out a modern-day marketing approach to turn the city's image around.
The post was a big hit in St. Louis, passed around for days on Twitter and Facebook.
"Too often, this city doesn't get represented in the ways we know it to be," said Perlut, who has gained some measure of national fame as the man behind the tongue-in-cheek American Mustache Institute. "People outside St. Louis don't get what we have going on here."
Efforts like PepsiCo.'s Refresh Project offer grants to civic proposals submitted on its website. Rally St. Louis will combine that sort of crowd-sourcing with crowd-funding, which seeks donations from the public.
"We heard from a lot of people who had the same frustrations we did," Perlut said. So Perlut, business partner Brian Cross and their co-workers at Elasticity came up with Rally St. Louis.
The idea will work like this: Regular St. Louisans will post their ideas on how to better market the city and vote on their favorites. Each month, a panel will decide a budget for the top five vote-getters, and fundraising will begin. People can donate as much as they want to whatever projects they want.
"This isn't a 'big economic development' thing," Cross said. "This is grass roots."
Still, it took money to get the ball rolling. Perlut and Cross spent months meeting with potential donors to fund the website and buy advertising. They got some support from big names in the St. Louis business world such as Fusz Automotive and Hardee's parent CKE Inc. They also got $75,000 each from foundations run by the Kempers and Taylors — the families behind Commerce Bank and Enterprise Rent-a-Car. Overall, they raised $250,000.
"The message immediately resonated with us," said John Kemper. "It's a grass-roots way for the community to pick itself up and promote itself and do some neat, interesting, quirky things."
St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association president Joe Reagan welcomes the effort.
"We've not always been as good about telling our story in our own authentic, positive way," he said. "When we're out competing for jobs, and people can be anywhere they want in the world, we need to be clear that St. Louis is a great place to be."
Reagan and others say the masses can sometimes do things that the civic establishment cannot. Cross cited a crowd-funded project to build a life-size statue of RoboCop in Detroit.
"If the RCGA or the mayor wanted to erect a statue of, say ("Mad Men" star and St. Louis native) Jon Hamm in Keiner Plaza, they'd get raked over the coals," he said. "But if regular people come up with it and pay for it themselves, it becomes this great idea."
Perlut and Cross say their effort will rise or fall with participation. The corporate and foundation money are one-time only. The money and ideas to keep Rally going will need to come from the people.
"If nothing else," Perlut said, "I think it'll be a very interesting social experiment."