Super Bowl gives Detroit face-lift

When Detroit was selected to host Super Bowl XL, there was skepticism of its ability to create an enjoyable experience.

PR team: Detroit Super Bowl XL Host Committee (Detroit) and Lovio George (Detroit)
Campaign: More Than Just a Game
Duration: August 2002 to mid-February 2006
Budget: Roughly $500,000 (agency fees, printing of materials, and creative services)

When Detroit was selected to host Super Bowl XL, there was skepticism of its ability to create an enjoyable experience.

And in a 2004 Detroit News poll, 78% of local residents said the city would be embarrassed by it.

The Detroit Super Bowl XL Host Committee enlisted Lovio George to help overcome Detroit's negative image, cold climate, and the perception that there was nothing to do there, aiming to position it as a viable destination.

"Detroit had changed, but the current information level hadn't," says Christina Lovio-George, president and CEO of Lovio George.

With an overall goal of "changing the conversation about Detroit," the team took an inside-out approach, first targeting local media, then expanding nationally.

"The [local] emphasis partly was to influence our own residents, but the other part was that we've been beaten up so badly over the years by the national press," Lovio-George says. "And the national media were being influenced by the local media."

A central message: "You can still have fun outside in the winter," says Ken Kettenbeil, VP of communications for the host committee. "You see it every four years with the Winter Olympics." Other goals were to highlight positive changes in the city and to inform the media of what to expect.

"Any opportunity we had to reach out to media, we did," Kettenbeil says. "We tapped local media for opinions frequently."

The committee held editorial board meetings with local media outlets, which it expanded to include national outlets. Addressing the lack of information about Detroit, Lovio George helped create an 88-page media guide distributed a year in advance.

The PR team took an aggressive approach with visiting media covering Detroit Lions games, sitting with them to answer questions during games. It also staffed the media centers at the two previous Super Bowls, where it gave away cold weather items like scarves.

In January 2005, the Motown Winter Blast outdoor winter festival served as a "dress rehearsal for the entertainment district [that] was huge in building awareness that there was something to do in Detroit and we were celebrating the cold," says Lovio-George.

The team also traveled to Seattle and Pittsburgh, the championship cities, to meet with media.

As the game approached, the frequency of press conferences and conference calls was boosted.

Super Bowl XL generated more than 480 million media impressions. Of the 233.3 million media hits generated the week of the game, it's estimated that 90% of the coverage was positive or neutral toward Detroit.

"The content was absolutely staggering that more than anything went to changing perceptions," says Lovio-George. "Everywhere we looked - the LA Times, Sports Illustrated, The Boston Globe, USA Today, The New York Times - it was like they were seeing Detroit for the first time."

Adds Kettenbeil: "They saw it was for real, not just a polished media guide. The experience met the perception we created. The reality was written."

Despite the committee's temporary status, Kettenbeil says the effort will have a lasting impact in that it pulled people and groups together who wouldn't necessarily ever work together. "The spirit of cooperation and community remain intact and will keep Detroit moving forward," he adds.

PRWeek's View
This campaign's success could not be measured by media hits; it's the Super Bowl, of course media are going to cover it. This was about the type of coverage.

A big part of its success relied on the early involvement of local media in the process, making sure they were informed, and then using them to change the national conversation about Detroit. The PR team was able to make the media feel just as important as the teams on the field.

Also critical was that the effort didn't position Detroit as something it wasn't. Rather than play down the cold climate, the PR team embraced it and made it a key message.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in