We’re guest blogging this week on CEOs For Cities’ blog and putting the posts here as well:

Memphis Tourism Foundation is launching its first website in a few days and along with it, a new approach to improving the opinion of Memphians about Memphis.

It’s a total departure, because rather than fall back on the bumper stickers and slogans of most self-image campaigns, the Foundation is asking citizens of Memphis to define the program themselves through their own videos, photographs, music, insiders guides and blogs.

While the Foundation was forming its agenda, Paul O’Connor, executive director of World Business Chicago, agreed to speak in Memphis about city branding. He emphasized that the first audience for any city brand is its own people, who are often much more negative about their city than outsiders.

No Slogans

“Stereotypes come face-to-face with perceptions,” he said. “Branding is hard for a product, and for a city, it’s very, very yard. We see our warts and our problems and we think everyone sees them. Locals are too critical of themselves.”Mr. O’Connor also delivered a warning about cities relying on taglines and slogans when they have not come to grips with their higher purpose.

Because Memphis is only now considering a branding project, the Tourism Foundation decided that in lieu of bumper stickers, it would ask Memphians to offer their own personal opinions.For examples, Memphians are asked to submit a photograph of their city, but not just any photo.

“We’re asking that people send in a photograph that answers one question: If you could only send someone one photograph that represented your Memphis and why you love it, what would it be?” said Calvin Taylor, who is heading up the Foundation as vice-president of its parent organization, Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Differentiating Memphis

In addition, the Foundation is soliciting short videos from Memphians completing a sentence that begins, “This is my Memphis because…”

To jump start the videos, Christopher Reyes of Live From Memphis and My Memphis TV is sharing his interviews with about three dozen young professionals telling what they like most about the city.

The interviews are featured in a special DVD produced in response to a recommendation of the Memphis Talent Magnet Report, which concluded that if Memphis is to attract 25-34 year-olds successfully, the most convincing stories would be peer-to-peer. The DVD is widely used by Memphis recruiters to sell the city to young workers.


In addition, the Foundation website is posting insiders guides to Memphis, starting with “Memphis: It’s More Than You Think.”

In setting a goal to improve the city’s self-image, the website is now recruiting bloggers to write about music, clubs, art and culture and dining, and Memphis’ young professionals organization, MPACT Memphis, is helping out.

To round out its internal image agenda, the Tourism Foundation will soon release a CD to prove that Memphis’ legendary music is not all in its past. Drawing on its healthy live music scene, the foundation has asked some of the city’s leading bands to reinterpret Memphis classic songs as a way of connecting the past to the present.


The Tourism Foundation has set an ambitious agenda in three priority areas – workforce development, internal image and research and advocacy – but its board members have placed a special priority on improving the city’s self-image.

As Mr. Taylor said, “We’ve decided that rather than try to tell our citizens what we think they should feel about Memphis, we want them to tell each other and hopefully create a buzz about the cool, funky aspect of our nature.”