Within two months, the city of Jackson and community leaders have unveiled several programs that claim the same goals: to unite Jacksonians, promote the capital city's positive features and move Jackson into a better future.
That presents a question that no one seems to answer: Why aren't they working together on one big project?
On Nov. 14, the city unveiled Celebrate Jackson, a marketing campaign for Jackson, at a surprise event with little advance notice. City officials announced a celebration, called Eleven 14 until the day of the event, but gave little more information prior to the event. On Nov. 14, a Wednesday, local restaurants set up booths, school choirs performed, and bands played on the green around City Hall for a couple hundred people as the city announced its new marketing campaign: Celebrate Jackson.
Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr., with the support of the Jackson City Council, hired the local Fahrenheit Creative Group for $98,000 in July to help shine a better light on the city--coincidentally or not, just in time for the 2013 city elections. Johnson is up for reelection.
City Director of Marketing Anthony Dean said the goal of Celebrate Jackson is to give local residents a chance to use their voices to highlight the city's positive aspects. Dean said the campaign will feature Jacksonians highlighting the city's best attributes in television commercials, on billboards, in print advertising and in other outlets.
Darren Schwindaman*, a graphic designer and branding specialist at Jackson-based Creative Distillery, says the entire Celebrate Jackson campaign process stunk from the beginning. The first problem came when the city didn't bid the campaign out, he said. Most organizations request bids and proposals before hiring agencies, he said, but the city hired Fahrenheit Creative without a bidding process. The city doesn't have to bid out projects that can be considered professional services.
Once Fahrenheit Creative got the contract, they didn't do any of the needed preparation to discover what the views of the city were that they wanted to change, Schwindaman said. "They didn't do any focus grouping to figure out what the perceptions are from people in the suburbs and in the city," Schwindaman told the JFP.
The opening event drew criticism, too. Signs that marketers designed to hang from light poles were too long and dragged on the ground. The city meant for the signs to showcase the city. Instead, workers took them down soon after the Eleven 14 event. Dean said the signs, which read "Celebrate Jackson," still advertised the campaign as intended despite their wrong size.
"I'm not saying it was a mistake," Dean told the Jackson Free Press. "It was just the way it turned out. The banners were just long."
Starting the campaign with an event was a very poor way to start a marketing campaign, Schwindaman said. Branding the TV commercials and posters for the event with the Eleven 14 logo was even more confusing to Schwindaman.
"All the promotion that was done and, presumably, all the money spent wasn't even about the Jackson rebranding. It was about the unveiling event for the Jackson rebranding," Schwindaman said.
Despite early promises of TV commercials, billboards and more, little has come of the campaign since the Nov. 14 event. Jason Thompson of Fahrenheit Creative Group said he is working with the city to plan the next steps of the campaign and search for new avenues of funding. Thompson said Fahrenheit hasn't spent the full $98,000, but the company approached the Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau board Nov. 30 and asked for additional public funding for the campaign.
JCVB Executive Director Wanda Wilson told the JFP that Fahrenheit Creative didn't ask for an exact amount, and didn't present any specifics about how it would use the money. Other sources present at the meeting, though, said Mayor Johnson warmed the room up before Fahrenheit Creative requested more than $100,000 in additional funding, based on a vague PowerPoint presentation that gave little specific detail.
Despite the lack of details, Wilson still called it a "great presentation." She said Fahrenheit Creative will submit a grant application with more specifics, at which time the JCVB board will make a decision.
"It is being taken under consideration at this point," Wilson said. "We won't know for sure until after the grant application has been received."
The Jackson Free Press has requested the Fahrenheit proposal, budget and expenses of the Celebrate Jackson campaign to date. The city had not responded to the request at press time.
A Team ... Vision?
In January, two business groups, Downtown Jackson Partners and the Jackson Chamber of Commerce announced Team Jackson, an effort to counter bad perceptions about Jackson and promote business in the city and its suburbs.
Membership in this group is available to anyone for a fee of $100. It is made up of schools, businesses, individuals and organizations from around the city.
Team Jackson states the same basic and vague goals of Celebrate Jackson: to provide citizens a chance to be heard, to focus on the positives in the city and to move the city forward with one united vision.
To accomplish its goals of spreading positive perceptions, Team Jackson plans to hold luncheons every other month for members and their guests--who presumably are already on board with the group's mission. The lunches cost $20. Non-members are invited to join luncheons, but Team Jackson requires a RSVP. At the group's first luncheon Jan. 15, organizers pledged to move Jackson forward.
Jeff Good, member of the board of directors of the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership, also spoke to the crowd of more than 100 Team Jackson members about Vision 2022, yet another chamber-led project that popped up in recent months.
Vision 2022, which the GJCP announced in October, is a comprehensive 10-year plan for the entire Jackson metro that includes building a lake near downtown Jackson, a medical corridor along Lakeland Drive and Woodrow Wilson Avenue, pedestrian trails throughout the metro, and a focus on aerospace engineering development, as well as other aspects.
A group of 10 volunteer committees--separate from 10 Team Jackson committees--are steering the Vision 2022 initiative. Good said the committees don't set any agendas, because the plan is already complete. The committees' job is to put the plan into action.
Duane O'Neill, president and CEO of GJCP, said after the Jan. 15 meeting that Team Jackson's purpose is to act as a public relations tool for the chamber and the Vision 2022 plan. He hopes that Team Jackson will help bring the 10-year plan, which focuses on the growth of Jackson as well as its suburbs, to fruition.
"Vision 2022 is an initiative that takes a lot of projects, money and things to do. Team Jackson is more to share the information and keep everybody plugged in," O'Neill told the Jackson Free Press. "(Vision 2022) is more down in the nitty gritty, making it happen."
Like Vision 2022, Team Jackson also consists of 10 committees.
Marika Cackett, co-chairwoman of the Team Jackson news committee, said Team Jackson, unlike Celebrate Jackson, is not focused solely on the capital city, but also on surrounding suburbs.
To help those suburbs, Good said the focus needs to be on Jackson, though. For the suburbs to thrive, he warned, the core city must thrive.
Not a Political Platform
Despite the 100-plus member group including businesses and individuals with direct links to political candidates in this year's city election, and the timing of its announcement, Cackett says Team Jackson is not a political group.
Mayoral candidate Jonathan Lee is a member of Team Jackson, as are former City Councilman Ben Allen, who has remained actively involved in city politics, and the law firm of Sam Begley, who has close ties to Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. and worked on his campaign in 2005. The city is also listed as a member, although city sources say it has not been actively involved in the effort.
"I think if you look at the different committees and the different people, we're all very different people," Cackett said. "We're not trying to elect someone to office. That's not what this is about. We're just trying to let people know what's going on in our city."
Money for Team Jackson membership and bi-monthly meetings goes to the Central Mississippi Growth Foundation, a non-profit created in 1970 by the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership.
O'Neill said the foundation is a way for the GJCP to raise and distribute funds for various projects without having to create separate non-profit organizations.
CMGF's tax records show the non-profit brought in $656,604 in 2010 and $706,671 in 2009. Most of those revenues, between $484,000 and $540,000, come from membership dues. Most of the remainder, about $160,000, came from government grants.
O'Neill said he couldn't say exactly without looking at the records, but that he believes the membership dues come from fund raising. The grants are mostly workforce development grants, O'Neill said, that the GJCP uses for job training projects.
The largest expenditure for the foundation over the past five years has been the Horizon United campaign. O'Neill said Horizon United was GJCP's five-year plan that led up to Vision 2022. It is now complete.
Among other investments, the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership donated $250,000 through the foundation to the Pearl River Vision Foundation for its lake project. That foundation is led by McGowan Working Partners, which is also a Team Jackson member and active in local politics.
Central Mississippi Growth Foundation filed tax returns as a IRC 501(c)(6), which includes business leagues and chambers of commerce. Under that filing, CMGF is legally capable of making campaign contributions to candidates and lobbying office holders, as long as neither of those actions is the organization's primary activity.
Paul Moak, former president of the GJCP, said he did not know much about the foundation, even though he is listed as the group's president on its 2010 IRS Form 990. He said his presidency at GJCP made him president of CMGF. He said CMGF is not a political organization. CMGF makes it easier for the GJCP to fund various projects, such as Team Jackson, Moak said. Instead of having to set up nonprofits for each program, GJCP can use the Central Mississippi Growth Foundation name to report the revenues and expenditures of Team Jackson.
Why exactly the chamber set up CMGF in the first place is a mystery to Moak. "I think it's primarily a vehicle that was just created to help facilitate a lot of different things that have occurred over the years without having to recreate (a nonprofit) every time some project comes down the pike," Moak said.
*Editor's Note: Darren Schwindaman worked as a graphic designer for the Jackson Free Press several years ago. We reached out to him for comment because he criticized Celebrate Jackson publicly in social media soon after the November launch.