CAMPAIGNS: Community relations - So why do they live in Baltimore?

Client: Greater Baltimore Alliance (Baltimore)

Client: Greater Baltimore Alliance (Baltimore)

Client: Greater Baltimore Alliance (Baltimore)

PR Team: Cornerstone (Baltimore)

Campaign: So Why Do You Live Here?

Time Frame: January - May 2000

Budget: Less than dollars 500,000

When she came to Baltimore from Phoenix in 1997 to head the Greater Baltimore Alliance, an economic development group, Ioanna Morfessis canvassed hundreds of people about their view of the city. Responses weren't encouraging.

Baltimore is an old-line city with a dropping population, and many feel it has prohibitive taxes and too much regulation. 'The perception of business leaders and residents was to overstate the negative and understate the positive,' says Morfessis.

As part of a five-year program, YesBaltimore, to attract companies to the area, the GBA backed an internal campaign to change local attitudes.


John Phelan, creative director at the GBA's marketing communications agency, Cornerstone, came up with a line to use in ads - 'So Why Do You Live Here?' - to get Baltimoreans thinking and talking about the positive aspects of their city. The group behind the campaign would not be mentioned.

The viral element was key. 'The idea was that no one would own the ad,' says Rich Badmington, head of Cornerstone's PR practice. 'If you take the sponsor out of the advertising, you're giving people license to take it and own it and extend it.'


In late January, 74 teaser billboards with nothing but the question appeared. Those in the know were asked to keep mum about who was behind the ads. The public's interest was piqued. One billboard was placed near 'TV Hill,' where three of the four local TV stations are located Reporters there began getting calls asking who was responsible for the mysterious billboards. The journalists followed the scent to Cornerstone. But the agency had messages for just such media calls. 'Ultimately, it was a wink of an eye, and 'We'll let you know in due course,'' says Badmington.

Due course came the week of February 21, when new messages appeared on most of the billboards, 90 bus sides and, for two months, in regional magazine Style, with 23 suggested answers to the question at hand: 'Two words: Steamed Crabs,' '138 Golf Courses,' 'Because it's not New York, Washington, or Phila ...'

On February 24, the GBA put out a press release announcing that YesBaltimore was behind the campaign. Publicity materials included the GBA's Web address (, and citizens were encouraged to supply their own answers to the question. Business and other supporters of the GBA were told about the group's sponsorship of the campaign in the hopes that they would continue to back it.

The billboards came down at the end of May.


By design, the effort was more about grassroots and 'grass tops' results than media response.

A group in historic Bolton Hill printed its own signs with the question and the group's URL ( Hundreds of signs popped up in windows throughout the neighborhood.

The campaign generated over 30,000 responses to the Web site, including: 'Bar-hopping in Fells Point,' 'The view from Federal Hill' and 'Where else would John Waters come from?'

There was, of course, media coverage. The AP put out a story, picked up by 42 news outlets, including The New York Times Web site. Local print coverage included The Sun's business section, the Baltimore Business Journal and The Daily Record, Maryland's business and legal paper.

Three out of the four local TV stations ran stories. Morfessis and others at the GBA did several radio interviews, notably with Baltimore's leading talk program, The Chip Franklin Show.

Morfessis says that people now react differently when she talks to them. 'They are feeling a lot better about this community.' Several factors are at play, including the improved economy, but, says Morfessis, there's no question 'it is also partly due to people now focusing on the positive aspects of this city.'


The GBA hopes to do another 'flight' of the 'So Why Do You Live Here?' ads but is currently focused on an upcoming YesBaltimore TV and radio campaign - the TV spots will show in pictures why people live in Baltimore.

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