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Ad campaign seeks to recruit volunteers to transform Detroit

by Patricia Anstett
Free Press Staff Writer


"For too many years, we've turned our backs on our city. We've ignored the high crime rate -- and the low graduation rate. If you think it's time to turn Detroit  around, join us. Volunteer. Tutor a child. Clean up a neighborhood. If we all do something, we can do anything. Become a Believer."

Tired of the city being blasted, some of the Detroit area's biggest advertising, film and marketing geniuses want to use that statement to create a positive image for Detroit and build an army of volunteers willing to commit time and money to help make the city a better place to live, work and visit.

They've launched an "I'm a Believer" campaign that has enlisted thousands of volunteer hours from media and film executives, led by Paige Curtis, a Bloomfield Hills advertising executive behind many award-winning spots and billboards, including the recognizable, "Do You Have a Beaumont Doctor?" ads. The campaign hopes to galvanize people committed to a better Detroit and subtly push the buttons of those who criticize the city.
"They're speechless," Curtis said of stunned reaction when she says she's a Detroiter. "It's a real room-clearer."
About $80,000 in donations is needed to produce radio, TV and billboard spots, plus a Web site.
They believe in Detroit. Do you?

All the Detroit bashing that Sandy Hermanoff heard at last year's Mackinac Policy Conference convinced her that something had to be done.

Hermanoff, president of a Farmington Hills-based public relations firm, picked up the phone after the annual meeting of state leaders and called the most creative mind she knows.

Curtis answered the phone, slept on it for a night and called Hermanoff the next morning to say she was in.
By December, with Curtis leading the way, they had assembled a team of top-notch media and film specialists to create what could be a multimillion dollar campaign to build a strong coalition and support network for people who believe in Detroit. A Web site they hope to create will point people to hundreds of ways in which they can contribute to a better city.

The largely pro bono campaign they will launch, as soon as $80,000 is raised, is built around donated time and supplies but needs the money to make it a reality -- basic costs to shoot the spots.

Free help already has come from Ferndale songwriter Jill Jack, who has penned a song.

William Dear and Robert Dyke, two Hollywood movie directors who were close friends at Dearborn's Fordson High School, have agreed to fly in to film the TV spots. TV and radio stations want to run the spots for free, Hermanoff said.

The campaign also has mock-up "I'm a Believer" advertisements, and organizers plan to bring in a diverse group of people before shooting ad spots.

The effort "is not another ad campaign," said Curtis, a dynamo who awakens from sleep to write ad jingles that bounce into her head. "It's an army recruitment campaign," she said, a reference to the legions she hopes to recruit.
Hermanoff said the campaign hopes to tweak the conscience of longtime area residents who have joined the chorus of Detroit critics. "A lot of people are doing wonderful things for the city and others are doing zip, absolutely zip," said Hermanoff, who like Curtis brings more than 40 years of experience to the project.
Curtis and Hermanoff presented the campaign in December to Detroit Mayor Dave Bing. "We are very excited about the campaign and the promise that it holds," said Bing spokeswoman Karen Dumas. She said the project ties in nicely with a $200,000 grant Detroit got this year from the Rockefeller Foundation to encourage volunteerism in the city.

Hermanoff recalled Bing, a former Detroit Piston, saying after the presentation, "I've been taught not to show my emotions as a professional basketball player, but your timing is impeccable'." He told the group, "I'm a believer," she said.

Curtis, CEO of the Curtis Group, is a believer, too. She calls herself a Detroiter because she spends a lot of time in the city and identifies with it. Her 46-year career -- six at high-powered New York City ad firms and the rest in metro Detroit -- has earned her and her company 17 Cleo awards for advertising and design excellence, along with dozens of others that line her home office.

She wanted a campaign that might tug at the consciousness of longtime Detroit-area residents who want the city to rebound and thrive. "If anybody can help the city of Detroit, it would be Paige," said John Young, vice president, marketing and enrollment management for Northwood University. He has worked with Curtis on an Oakwood emergency room campaign, along with others for the Health Alliance Plan, Walsh College and Northwood. Over the years, Curtis has designed two highly copied campaigns -- a 30-minute emergency department guarantee for Dearborn's Oakwood Healthcare System and another, first aired on April 12, 1999, for Beaumont Hospitals now familiar to virtually everyone in metro Detroit. Before that, she was the creative genius behind Excedrin headache tablet radio and TV spots and successful campaigns for dozens of others, from Adrian's Dominican nuns to Arby's roast beef sandwiches. Curtis also is involved with another pro bono effort for Detroit -- to build awareness and a more stable source of financial support for Alternatives for Girls, a program for homeless and at-risk girls and women. "We've never been able to do anything like this before," said Amy Good, CEO of Alternatives for Girls. "Paige and the Curtis Group have been a godsend for us." The group will begin a campaign in the months ahead, Good said. Curtis said she hopes the "I'm a Believer" project taps an inspiration to give back. Perhaps techniques that sold headache pills, hospitals and roast beef sandwiches will help revive interest in the city of Detroit.

Sandy Hermanoff, president of Hermanoff Public Relations of Farmington Hills, is a branding expert who has worked on projects for the Detroit Zoo, Southwest Airlines and others. She started the ball rolling and helps on many aspects of the campaign.

Read more: Who's who in the campaign for improving Detroit | freep.com | Detroit Free Press

Read more: Ad campaign seeks to recruit volunteers to transform Detroit | freep.com | Detroit Free Press http://www.freep.com/article/20100815/NEWS01/8150401/1318/Ad-campaign-seeks-to-recruit-volunteers-to-transform-Detroit#ixzz0wxphIr4I

Hermanoff Public Relations is a partner in Worldcom Public Relations Group.