Los Angeles Times
BYLINE: Martin E. Comas
DATELINE: SANFORD, FLA.
In the war of images that followed the killing of Trayvon Martin, Sanford has launched a new offensive: a promotional campaign to showcase the city in a positive light.
After Martin was fatally shot in a Sanford gated community in February, a torrent of news coverage worldwide cast the city as a backward burg troubled by racism, angry protesters and an inept Police Department that did not arrest neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who is half white, half Peruvian, for killing the unarmed African American teenager.
Sanford merchants saw sales decline, customers canceled reservations at restaurants and fewer shoppers browsed downtown streets.
Now, Sanford officials are putting together a public relations effort to proclaim that the Seminole County seat is still “The Friendly City” touted by its slogan.
“There was a perception spurred by the media coverage that the city, particularly the downtown area, was on the verge of unrest. But nothing could be further from the truth,” said Nick Mcray, Sanford’s economic development director. “We have always remained a welcoming and inviting environment for visitors and businesses.”
Sanford has helped create a 14-member group, called the Positive Marketing Partner Panel, that includes business owners, representatives of nonprofits, Chamber of Commerce leaders, tourism officials and city employees.
The city also has spent $10,000 to hire the Lake Mary marketing firm Stephenson & Associates to help guide the campaign. The firm has come up with a tag line that will appear on advertising and other promotional efforts: “Friendly Sanford … A lot to like.”
The panel’s ideas have included launching an advertising blitz on radio, television, billboards and in print; using social media such as Facebook to promote Sanford; and setting up a camera at the downtown Historic Sanford Welcome Center so visitors can record 30-second testimonials about their experiences. The recordings could eventually be part of an ad campaign.
Sanford plans to get help with social media from students at the Crooms Academy of Information Technology, a nationally recognized magnet school in the city’s historically black Goldsboro community.
The city has earmarked up to $15,000 for advertising, an amount Mcray acknowledged may not be enough to make an impact. City officials have not yet decided on the scope of advertising, though the panel has proposed forming partnerships or obtaining sponsorships to support an ad campaign.
“It’s all still in its infancy stage,” Mcray said. “We’ll take a look and see if [advertising] on one form of media is more effective than another and then move from there.”
Naomi Gonzales, owner of Le Petit Nails, said she saw a drop in customers soon after news erupted about Martin and Zimmerman, who eventually was charged with second-degree murder by a special prosecutor and is awaiting trial. Gonzales is now a member of the marketing panel.
“It definitely had an economic impact on my business,” she said. “But I love Sanford, and I want to see it improve.”
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