Grand Rapids kills 'dying city' stigma

When Newsweek ran a syndicated article that included Grand Rapids, MI, on a list of "Dying Cities," the magazine had no idea the viral pushback that would ensue on behalf of the besmirched town.

When Newsweek ran a syndicated article that included Grand Rapids, MI, on a list of “Dying Cities,” the magazine had no idea the viral pushback that would ensue on behalf of the besmirched town.

The list was originally compiled by Mainstreet.com, using mostly 2000 and 2010 Census data to presume that cities with draining populations had diminishing economic promise. Newsweek picked up the piece as part of a “content sharing deal” with Mainstreet.com.

Back in Grand Rapids, Rob Bliss, a creative events organizer who was born and raised in the city, had a plan: get the folks of Grand Rapids to participate in a massive lip dub of Don McLean's American Pie. Bliss went to local sponsors and found more than 25 organizations to foot the $40,000 production bill. Then they went to work, putting together a shoot with thousands of town residents touring the streets of the city, playing football, cheerleading, and lip synching the McLean song as they went along.

“The article was a rallying cry,” Bliss said. “Business leaders, sponsors, government leaders, everyone.”

Bliss posted the nine-minute video to YouTube. The result? One million views and 150,000 Facebook status posts.

PR Play rating:

1. Clueless
2. Ill-advised
3. On the right track
4. Savvy
5. Ingenious

“We had a goal of hitting a million views, but not in four days,” he added. “This definitely exceeded expectations.” Bliss noted that the massive interest on Facebook caused the social network to initially mark it as spam.

The story took off in traditional media outlets as well, garnering hits with Reuters, AdWeek, and The Detroit Free Press. But the coup de grace was getting Newsweek to post an apology of sorts on its own Facebook page.

“To the Grand Rapids crowd,” the memo reads. “First off, we LOVE your YouTube LipDub. We're big fans and are inspired by your love of the city you call home.”

By sending a community-wide message over social media, this small town scored a big victory against its detractors.

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