Mission Improbable: Selling Flint in wake of crisis

LANSING — In Flint, residents and businesses are trying to counter the negative messages brought by lead poisoning with messages of resilience.

Jocelyn Hagerman, the founder of a grassroots social media campaign called #FlintFwd, said she and others felt the city needed something that could show the outside world that Flint is more than just a bad headline.

“There’s just this general consensus that, ‘Why go to Flint? There’s so little going on,’” said Hagerman, of Fenton, who with her husband, Phil, owns several businesses in the region, including a real estate firm and specialty pharmacy Diplomat Pharmacy.

“I don’t want to make light of anything going on,” she said of the lead crisis, which spawned from a decision to switch drinking water sources from Detroit’s Lake Huron water to the Flint River without properly treating the new water source. “(But) if we don’t move away from the negative, we’ll never move to anything positive.”

The campaign started out as Hagerman’s idea, with T-shirts and bumper stickers. She said Ann Arbor-based marketing firm Phire Group agreed to get involved pro bono and teamed with Flint-based Digital Alchemy Films to help produce videos featuring residents and business owners talking about the city.

“We see this as a long-term effort owned by the people of Flint — and we just helped create a platform for it to take place,” said Jim Hume, principal of Phire Group.

The budget, if there was one, was small — maybe $10,000, Hagerman said — and she hasn’t developed any metrics for success, but said she would love the campaign to go national.

Hagerman hopes residents will take ownership of the campaign now by sharing positive stories about the city on the #FlintFwd website and social media channels.

On its website, #FlintFwd describes itself as “a movement inspired by the resilience of the people of Flint.”

That message of resilience is influencing the messaging being done through the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce, where business promotion likely will be harder.

Traffic is down at businesses and restaurants, which affects the city’s recent downtown development momentum, said George Wilkinson, a chamber group vice president.

Hotel rates haven’t slid, despite concerns from people about visiting the city, Wilkinson said, which he attributes to large numbers of volunteers who are coming to work in Flint.

The chamber said it is finalizing a contract with a public relations firm to help with its lead counter-messaging.

Wilkinson said the chamber is working to secure local, state and federal resources for business owners, including microloans.

“We’re taking actions to let everyone know that Flint is open for business.”

About The Author

Lindsay VanHulle

Lindsay VanHulle covers business and Lansing for both Bridge and Crain's Detroit Business. She can be reached here. 

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s.melvin
Mon, 03/28/2016 - 10:44am
The only headline good for Flint THEY ALL HAVED MOVED. PURE Michigan was a misprint ........It is POOR MICHIGAN .just look at Benton Harbor 10 years ago.
s.melvin
Mon, 03/28/2016 - 10:49am
Today E-mail from USA Depart of Communication. $ 41 million for clean up of Western Lake Erie. hmmm missed Flint by 300 miles..WHY?.
Rich
Tue, 03/29/2016 - 8:43am
1) Flint is a city, while Lake Erie is "owned" by 2 countries. They are taking care of what they own. 2) Flint affects about 50,000 people while Lake Erie affects hundreds of thousands.
Chaplain John V...
Wed, 04/06/2016 - 10:06am
From a Biblical perspective, this reminds me of the story of Joseph in the Old Testament. He was sold into slavery, then his favor with God and influence on the Egyptians brought the nations back to prosperity (Gen 39:23). God took a negative event of famine and turned it into a blessing. It became the firsthand part of the Abrahamic blessing (Genesis 12) and God's glory was brought before the peoples eyes. This blessing can and will do the same for the people of Flint -Pastor John Van Kirk Boise, Idaho