Pure Michigan Campaign Losing Ground since Flint Water Crisis

Pure Michigan

Long before the Pure Michigan campaign began ten years ago, the state was known for its water. And the Pure Michigan campaign builds on that with breathtaking pictures associating the campaign with water, just as it’s always been. There are the Great Lakes with shorelines dusting the Northern part of Michigan and beautiful pristine inland mountain lakes as well. All those freshwater coastlines appealing to residents, vacationers, travelers, and businesses looking to relocate to the natural beauty of Michigan.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm launched the campaign including TV, radio, print ads, billboards, and license plates in 2006. Since then, Michigan has carved those images into the marketplace. BUT, along comes Flint and their water crisis.

All of a sudden, Michigan water doesn’t seem so pure, in fact, it seems metallic and corrosive because of the connection to Flint. The sooner the Flint issue is resolved and behind them, the better for all concerned, including their economic growth efforts since the Pure Michigan slogan was adopted for business marketing during the administration of Gov. Rick Snyder.

Business Leaders for Michigan’s President and CEO, Doug Rothwell, said, “It is too early to tell how much impact the Flint water crisis will have on the state’s image. Certainly with our brand being Pure Michigan, it is more of an image problem. We worked so hard to have Detroit not be a negative issue. Now, Flint puts a damper on it.”

Pure Michigan Campaign

The $33 million campaign managed by Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) reported that though the number of deals in the pipeline is consistent with what they had before the crisis, it takes a lot more work to stay even – more phone calls and more convincing. Only more difficult since working capital also decreased from a drop in tribal gaming revenue. So their budget has been cut by a significant 27 percent and 65 employees.

Ron Kitchens’ team at Southwest Michigan First in Kalamazoo talks with as many as 230 site consultants per year. But now, they are doing about three times as many calls to keep Michigan in the running for prospective companies. “We’re about selling the whole state. So when the water crisis broke, when the Detroit Public Schools hit the national news, there was a palpable gasp.”

The true damage is difficult to determine since all of the numbers won’t be available until next year – for impact on either the business marketing or the tourism. Even then, it may not be easy to find how much is due to Flint, the loss of budget and employees marketing for businesses to come to the State, and a much lighter snowfall this year than usual, translating to less winter tourism and recreation activities.

But according to Bill Arwood at the MEDC, the Pure Michigan campaign is “iconic and award-winning. It has done more to market the state than anything we have done after that. It is the one thing that is continuing. When you do something for 10 years without interruption, it becomes very deep-seated and immediately recognizable. It’s our brand in most of the U.S. and internationally.”

From the business side, the state’s successes include the pork processing area for Clemens Food Group under construction in Coldwater and a $325 million facility in Grayling Township for Arauco particleboard manufacturing. They also have the project at Willow Run in Ypsilanti called the American Center for Mobility transforming the former Ford B-24 bomber plant into the nation’s first autonomous vehicle testing site.

When a state faces a significant crisis such as the one in Flint, a slogan is probably not enough to keep outsiders interested, for a week or a lifetime. What is needed is a full marketing and PR plan in place and worked by those who know the way to build the most value from each effort. It would also be wise to stress that Flint is not the norm for the state, just as they did when they faced the bankruptcy in Detroit.

They seem to be working on that plan already… A new Pure Michigan TV commercial focused on Detroit’s post-bankruptcy momentum will be hitting the airwaves this spring. The ad is edgier and includes Michigan’s craft beer industry and farm-to-table restaurants.

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