It was a risky proposition - find two people to represent the US Chamber of Commerce and send them on a two-month journey across the US to highlight real-life stories about the power of free enterprise. We'd never done anything like it before. Would we lose control of our message? Would our representatives find the best possible stories?
We took the risk because the free enterprise system has taken a beating in the aftermath of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Businesses and the people who build and run them have been under attack. We needed to do something bold that would refocus the nation's attention on the benefits of free enterprise, its ability to drive growth, create jobs, and change people's lives for the better.
First, we launched a nationwide search for tour guides targeted at students and young professionals. We billed it as the best summer job in America and called for applications on our Web properties and social media networks, as well as through traditional media outreach. More than 900 teams applied. Two finalist teams were presented for a vote on FreeEnterprise.com. The four days of voting marked the highest four days of traffic in the history of the site.
We then went to where the stories are - to every corner of the country. We launched On the Road With Free Enterprise and sent our tour guides to talk to entrepreneurs, small business owners, and tech startups. These are the doers who drive new technologies, jobs, and growth.
The road trip spawned some 44 stories from 18 cities, as well as cross-posts in publications including The Huffington Post, Inc., Forbes, Fast Company, Business Insider, and The Atlantic.
At the project's end, monthly traffic to FreeEnterprise.com swelled by about 50%, with similar increases in engagement on our social media properties such as Facebook and Twitter.
We let the innovators, entrepreneurs, and job creators tell their stories. They are the most powerful spokespeople for free enterprise and we couldn't have done it better. The resulting content included more than 20 blog posts and videos on the site.
The chamber believes strongly in the ability of people to take a legitimate risk to make their lives better. In a way, the tour was simply practicing what we preached. Risks do not always pay off, but they are essential to opportunity. We took a risk and it paid off. It's what America and free enterprise are all about.
Tom Collamore is SVP of communications and strategy, US Chamber of Commerce.