Sharing our story through economy

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Just over one year ago, Gov. Phil Bryant declared 2014 as the Year of the Creative Economy.

The announcement was made during a press conference at Power Academic and Performing Arts Complex in Jackson, which featured a special performance by renowned concert pianist and Mississippi native Bruce Levingston. This was music to my ears, both literally and figuratively. I’ve been promoting and leveraging Mississippi’s Creative Economy movement since my days in the private sector and later in public service at the Mississippi Arts Commission. When the Governor announced his vision to have 2014 dedicated to creativity and creative development, I knew that in my current role as Director of Visit Mississippi, the state’s tourism office, the year ahead was going to be full and fulfilling.

The first order of business was to create an ad campaign to leverage the Year of the Creative Economy, showcasing real Mississippians and an authentic Mississippi experiences. We landed on the idea of a “Mississippi Homecoming,” a yearlong celebration of the people, places, music, art, food and culture that make our state unlike any other place on earth. We called on friends like Grammy-winner Cassandra Wilson and Oscar-winner Morgan Freeman to be the faces of the campaign. Robert St. John helped us talk about culinary legacy and the inimitable Bobby Rush invited guests to experience our diverse musical heritage. We highlighted local programming as part of the Mississippi Homecoming events calendar, and invited visitors to experience the arts and culture of our state again or for the first time.

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The Mississippi Homecoming ad campaign utilized traditional advertising such as print and television as well as an integrated digital campaign that involved online ads. We had more than 15 million impressions reached via traditional advertising, and more than 36,000 page views on the dedicated website to the campaign,

The Creative Economy Twitter account @MSCreativeEcon had 186 percent growth over the course of 2014. The #mshomecoming hashtag started conversations about Mississippi’s food, music, arts, and culture.

These are great statistics, but Mississippi Homecoming wasn’t just about social media and advertising impressions. One of the greatest successes of the yearlong celebration was the civic pride created when our beloved Mississippi artists came home to reflect on the influence this place has had on their creative process.

We welcomed home and celebrated with Andrew Bucci, B.B. King, Vasti Jackson, Steve Azar, Natasha Trethewey and Mac McAnally. And let’s not forget the food: chefs like Cat Cora and food writers such as John T. Edge helped us connect culinary with culture.

I’m especially proud that we achieved such great success with this campaign considering we have the smallest tourism advertising budget in the Southeast. We are hopeful that is going to change. Gov. Bryant included an additional $5.1 million for tourism advertising in his Executive Budget. We’ve done the math and we know that with the additional funding, we can increase our impressions by 162 percent. We also know that for every $1 this state spends on tourism advertising we get $6.46 back. Talk about return on investment.

In order to remain competitive in today’s market, we need additional dollars to reach more people and share with them the great things they will find in our state. We cannot continue to whisper while everyone else is shouting. The Governor has added his voice for increased funding and I’m hopeful that the Legislature will join the choir in their budget recommendation. We need everyone’s voices to lift up the Mississippi story, as we continue to build on the creative economy through investment in our state’s greatest resources: our vibrant culture, dedicated citizens and one-of-a-kind experiences.


Malcolm White is the director of Visit Mississippi.