By The Associated Press
JACKSON – For years, Mississippi’s capital city has battled a reputation as a place of blight, corruption and high crime.
Now, Jackson officials say they have enlisted help to upgrade public perception of the state’s biggest city. A local advertising firm, Fahrenheit Creative Group, has been hired in a $45,000 contract to create better vibes for Jackson.
City Council President Tony Yarber said that he’s frustrated by the negative perceptions.
Critics argues the perceptions are based in realties: crime is a serious problem in many areas of Jackson, boarded-up homes can be found in even more affluent neighborhoods and politics is widely seen as more theater than a serious exercise in good government.
Yarber says it’s time to focus on Jackson’s upside, such as its cultural diversity.
“There are tons of things that make Jackson what it is,” he said. “There’s the history of Jackson, there’s the diversity of cultures in Jackson – there’s so many different things, so I think we need to find out what has the greatest amount of marketability and move the ball from there.”
Yarber also said crime overall has fallen in some areas. However, violent crimes are up citywide.
According to city statistics, property crimes in a corridor along U.S. Highway 80 are down 14.2 percent, perhaps because of increased police patrols.
Former City Councilman Ben Allen said Hinds County and Jackson are unjustly associated with crime.
“Downtown Jackson is statistically the safest place in the state,” he said. “We need to rebrand our downtown. We’re surrounded by communities that have their own personalities. Nobody is selling the story of who we are.”
And it doesn’t help when metro-area real estate agents tell clients, “You can only live in Madison, Ridgeland or Brandon,” said Jeannie Waller, director of communications for the Mississippi Main Street Association.
“We’re being branded by Madison County in a very, very negative way,” Waller said.
Fahrenheit Creative Group is fairly new. Its first business filing with the secretary of state came in April 2011, but its leaders boast experience on other campaigns around Mississippi. Chief Operating Officer Olivia Thomas worked with the city previously on its “Go 80″ marketing campaign. Jason Thompson, the company’s chief financial officer, has worked for years on teen tobacco-use prevention campaigns.
According to its website, FCG’s services include consulting, creative services, marketing, and media and public relations.
In its proposal to the city, the group pledged a plan that would “define the city and its successes” in a way that boosts the city’s public image and makes residents feel better about living in Jackson.