When you’re in advertising, you quickly learn that there are times where you have to zig when you’d rather zag. You have to be flexible and make creative and strategic changes to do what’s right for the client. This is our job and it’s what we love about it.
But, it’s not very often that the mayor of one of the country’s largest metropolitan areas requires you to change your paid messaging strategy because he doesn’t agree with it. That’s right, in the land of free speech, we were censored.
Allow me to explain. In August, working with the South Dakota Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), we launched the second phase of the “Where Big Things Happen” branding and business recruitment campaign in Minneapolis and Chicago. Part of the strategy included paid airport advertising in the Chicago O’Hare Airport. That’s right, PAID advertising.
We contracted space for three large banners just outside of a security area so we could juxtapose the hassles of air travel with the ease of doing business in South Dakota. The Airport Authority denied the first rounds of banners—Keep Your Change in Your Pockets, We’re Hands Off When it Comes to Business, and No Government Pat Downs—because they felt they contradicted TSA regulations. We understood the concern and changed our message. We kept our Keep the Change banner and created two more: Our Economy is First Class and Prepare Your Business for Take Off.
In the meantime, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other city leaders saw our proposed banners and decided they didn’t like the message we were sending. In fact, the Mayor’s Office said no more advertising in the airport—by us or any other tourism or economic development entity. Period. Our contract was canceled.
Why? We were told that the Mayor’s office was concerned that promoting tourism destinations, or in our case South Dakota’s business-friendly environment, would take business away from the Windy City. Hmmm … let me get this straight. You don’t want South Dakota’s guaranteed revenue dollars because there’s a slight chance you could potentially lose another company’s money somewhere down the line. We were perplexed and frustrated. And so was our client, the GOED.
Eventually, Chicago city officials admitted they were being “reactionary” and reversed the decision. They said we could advertise BUT only with a message they approved.
City Hall thought our Keep Your Change in Your Pockets was too aggressive. We changed it to Keep Your Profits, which evidently is even worse in the eyes of Chicago City Hall.
By this time, we had been fighting to get our banners hung for three months. All of our magazine ads, digital elements and Minneapolis airport creative were nearing the end of the scheduled run but our Chicago airport banners were still in limbo.
That’s when we decided if we couldn’t run our message in the airport; we would find another way. And this time, we were out for earned media.
We crafted a press release and purchased a full-page, back-of-news section ad in the Sunday Chicago Tribune. The headline on the ad: “This is the ad Rahm Emanuel doesn’t want you to see.”
We knew having the Mayor’s name attached to the ad would get the news outlets’ attention. And the strategy worked. In addition to the benefit of the readers of the Chicago Tribune seeing our uncensored message, the media also helped carry the message.
In the first 24 hours, we had 31 stories that reached more than 5.2 million people in markets all across the country. That’s about 2.5 million more than would have seen it in the airport. Another bonus, at the end of December, the GOED’s message was finally posted in the Chicago Airport. It’s a little different than we wanted it to be but it still communicates that South Dakota is a great state to do business.
We also learned that there’s always a way to get your message out. You just have to zig when you had planned to zag.