Across-the-board promotion of city

Billboards: Baltimore's economic development agency is trying to build civic pride by asking, "So why do you live in Baltimore?"

February 25, 2000|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

For weeks, billboards around the region have posed a mysterious question: "So why do you live here?"

This week, 24 answers started appearing, including: "Two words: steamed crabs"; "Because it's not New York, Washington or Philadelphia --"; "138 golf courses"; "Winter, spring, summer, fall."

The Greater Baltimore Alliance, a regional economic development agency, confesses to being behind the project -- a $1.8 million "Yes, Baltimore" campaign to build civic involvement and civic pride. The 18-month campaign will cost GBA a fraction of that amount -- about $350,000 -- because of in-kind contributions, according to Ioanna Morfessis, GBA president and chief executive officer. Fund raising is continuing to extend the campaign, she said.

"If the people here don't believe in Baltimore, it's very hard to sell Baltimore to outsiders and to then envision how wonderful things are going to be in 10 or 15 years from now," Morfessis said.

GBA officials hope the dialogue will continue with people who live and work here answering the question on a Web site:

"If we get 10 people, it will be a success, because they're not talking about it now," Morfessis said.

But the campaign should reach tens of thousands of people through 74 billboards in high-traffic areas, messages on 90 buses, and newspaper, magazine and radio station advertising, she said.

The GBA name doesn't appear on the advertising campaign. "We're not trying to tell people how they should think or feel, we're asking them how they think and feel," Morfessis said. "We wanted something edgy, in your face and very proactive about Baltimore, and we didn't want it to be Madison Avenue."

It was an unusual assignment for an advertising firm.

"We weren't really selling a product," said John Phelan, creative director at Cornerstone, the Baltimore-based advertising agency that devised the campaign. "It was about changing people's mind-set. We wanted them in essence to create their own ad. The most disarming way to do that was to simply ask them a question. We're letting them remind themselves that there are a lot of very good reasons to live here."

Phelan said he hopes that the campaign will lead people debate such issues as: "Who has the best crab cake, who's the best sports figure and what's the best fishing area or beach."

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