When the Ferguson situation calms down, what are the next steps for those who are charged with promoting St. Louis as a destination for conventions, tourism, business relocations, startup development and other concerns?
Major damage has been done. Images shared worldwide are indelible. People who have never set foot in St. Louis have new perceptions of our area and they are not good.
Those of us who live here and work here know that what has been shown is a distorted view of the region, seen through the lenses of media. While there are real problems in Ferguson and other communities, most residents of St. Louis County co-exist peacefully with members of other races.
The organizations and individuals who sell the positives of St. Louis to the rest of the U.S. and the world may want to consider these suggestions in the short term:
- Realize that you cannot undo what has already been done. Also, realize that you cannot control the various players in this episode.
- Do not focus entirely on damage control. Spin will be called out.
- When asked, make clear your genuine concern for all parties who’ve been hurt. Avoid getting into analytical discussions or contentious arguments about what has happened.
- As tensions cool, share positives at intervals. Don’t launch a barrage of upbeat content immediately.
- Seek out those who are partisans of our region. Prominent individuals, including area natives, can be important representatives. (Jon Hamm, for instance, shared appropriate comments last night at Busch Stadium.)
- The value of institutions that attract people to St. Louis becomes even greater. Talk freely about the Cardinals, Rams, Blues, Zoo, Garden, our museums, the Muny, the Arch, the new Cathedral, etc. and how they add to our quality of life.
- Media outlets and personnel who’ve been friendly to St. Louis and our city’s institutions in the past know that this situation does not negate all the good things about St. Louis. Reach out to old friends with fresh ideas.
As a native of Birmingham, I know that perceptions linger. But they do not define a city.
Similarly, the Ferguson situation will affect our area’s reputation for some time. But it will not define St. Louis and our region. This will end and we will survive.