Detroiters Urged To Make The City Better

All cities have PR campaigns to attract tourists and business travelers. In Detroit, the city is doing a publicity blitz to make residents feel good about their hometown, and to urge them to volunteer to make Detroit a better place to live.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This next news report, like so many news reports, brings to mind the movie, "Airplane." It was a rough place, a character says, the seediest dive on the wharf, populated with every reject and cutthroat from Bombay to Calcutta. It was worse than Detroit.

Detroit has an image problem. But now a group of Detroiters is trying to change the city's image - not in the eyes of the nation, but of the people who live there. NPR's Sonari Glinton has the story.

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SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Over the years the city of Detroit has had a lot of PR campaigns. Here's one from 1985, made by the local ABC television affiliate.

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UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) You've got the spirit. Tell them you're from Detroit. Come on, let's hear it. Tell them you're from Detroit.

GLINTON: All right. I'm not going to play you the Sammy Davis Junior song, "Hello Detroit," this time, but YouTube it. Trust me. It is awesome. Anyway. Now, Detroit has a new PR campaign, with billboards, radio and TV ads with all manner of Detroit celebs. It's not just to get people to come visit Detroit from, say, San Diego. It's just for Detroit.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Let's make Detroit a great city again.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: If we all do something...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: If we all do something...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: If we all do something...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: We can do anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I'm a believer. I'm a believer.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: Are you?

SANDY HERMANOFF: I think the worst offenders of our brand here in Detroit are the people who live in this area.

GLINTON: Sandy Hermanoff came up with the idea for the I'm a Believer campaign.

HERMANOFF: A couple years ago, if you went to a conference somewhere, if you went out to dinner, if you went - you know, you'd hear, oh, I can't go downtown for dinner. I can't - you know, I wouldn't start a business in Detroit. Detroit's never come back again. The school system is terrible.

GLINTON: Hermanoff, like a lot Detroiters, kind of got tired of people talking trash about her city, especially people who live in the area.

HERMANOFF: It's people just complaining about everything, you know. And I've heard it all. I've heard it all. And it's time to stop.

GLINTON: Hermanoff is in PR, and her friend Paige Curtis is in advertising. So they thought up an ad campaign and took it to Detroit's Mayor Dave Bing. No, seriously. That's the kind of women they are. They just came up with an ad campaign, and out of the blue, took it to the mayor.

HERMANOFF: We presented the whole campaign. Paige had storyboards and all kinds of things. We presented him with a t-shirt. And he sat and listened to the campaign, and he didn't bat an eyelash.

GLINTON: The two women sat in silence, and so did the mayor, no emotion, nothing. And then...

HERMANOFF: And then he said: But this is fantastic, and I love it. And your timing is impeccable. And can I wear the T-shirt?

GLINTON: The reason the timing was great is the city got a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to get more people to volunteer in Detroit. The campaign is meant to drive people to feel better about the city and to spend more time making the city a better place. All kinds of Detroit celebs pitched in for free. Hermanoff and Curtis did so, also. Paige Curtis says she's realistic about what a campaign can do.

PAIGE CURTIS: We wanted to stigmatize the people who didn't believe in the city. And second of all, we wanted to take away anyone's excuse for saying I don't know what to do. Well, guess what? Now there is something you can do, and here it is.

GLINTON: And for all the people outside Detroit who talk trash about the city, Sandy Hermanoff and Paige Curtis say those people can keep their traps shut, too - that is, unless they're ready to do something.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Detroit.

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INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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