In December 2011, I wrote a piece for the Marketplace
blog on Forbes.com
called “St. Louis Doesn’t Suck
.” The reaction shocked me.
Marketplace is a forum for marketers, not moms from St. Charles, Missouri. Yet the post hit a nerve in metro-St. Louis, and residents were broadly fired up, to say the least.
In the piece, I called for the city in which I’ve lived for the past six and a half years to improve its PR and marketing efforts. The story drew ten of thousands of shares and sparked a lively conversation around the topic.
The thing is, I wasn’t trying to suggest a new slogan for St. Louis or create some great strategic debate. More than anything I was venting, as not unlike other major metro areas I’d watched—from inside the region’s publicity efforts—we had stepped all over ourselves for the years I’d lived in St. Louis.
Indeed, there is little debate that in spite of a great quality of life, not unlike many other metro areas—St. Petersburg, Fla. and Richmond, Va. come to mind—St. Louis has struggled to define itself to those living outside of the region. Thus, the region has lost out on jobs, political conventions, bright minds, and potential business relocation.
After the story hit, some influential people in the business community approached my partner, Brian Cross, and me at Elasticity
. They suggested we take the excitement generated by "St. Louis Doesn’t Suck” and work to create a vehicle that harnessed the apparent interest in community collaboration to better define what makes the region a great place to live, work, attend school, start a business, watch a ballgame, raise a family, whatever.
A few of us started creating an idea that’s unlike anything before it. Then we quietly shopped it across the region to influencers, making it clear to these leaders that our concept required the relinquishing of control, as well as the harnessing of the creativity of our citizens to work effectively.
Nearly a year after the initial Forbes
piece, with all of the buy-in—hours upon hours spent building and selling the idea, and raising start-up capital—we released the results this week: The not-for-profit marketing platform Rally Saint Louis (RallySTL.org
Rally Saint Louis is a first-of-its-kind online crowdsourcing and crowdfunding platform aimed at shaping outside perceptions of metro-St. Louis by harnessing the collective ideas and financial backing of residents.
Yes, it has dimensions of “My Starbucks Idea,” “Dell Idea Storm,” Rockethub, and Kickstarter, but there hasn’t been much of a combination of crowdsourced ideas and crowd-oriented fundraising to reach such a goal. And never before has it been used by a metro region to better position itself.
This is how it functions:
• Anyone visiting RallySTL.org can submit an idea for how to market the region. There is no set formula: From campaign slogans to beautification projects to highlighting a favorite cultural destination.
• Residents can then vote for their favorite campaign ideas, and those ideas receiving the most votes from the crowd will proceed.
• The Rally marketing committee, which is made of up marketers from companies and agencies in St. Louis (Anheuser Busch, Elasticity, Purina, Coolfire, Hardee's, etc.), will set a budget and resources needed to complete the project.
• The budgeted ideas will then be put on the site for voting again, but by crowdfunding. If someone likes an idea and wants to see it executed, they must donate small denominations to see it come to fruition.
• If a project reaches it’s funding goals, a St. Louis-area partner will execute it. Ideas that do not reach funding goals are removed from the site.
Rally Saint Louis is an engine to enable ideas from the people, for the people, paid for the by the people, representing the people.
It's an effort that comes down to a relatively simple principle: If St. Louisans are, in fact, tired of seeing the region represented in a manner that doesn’t reflect the reality of life in the region, and if they have an idea or an interest in seeing the region continue to excel, St. Louisans can now play a role, contribute their voices, and ensure the region is properly represented as a great place to live, work, and play.
At the very least, it will be an interesting social experiment. In the end, the proof will be in the proverbial pudding whether the region's residents are ready to Rally for St. Louis.
Aaron Perlut is a managing partner of St. Louis-based digital marketing and public relations agency Elasticity (GoElastic.com) and co-founder of Rally Saint Louis.