The concept was noble, if not simple. The folks on the "Guerilla Marketing Team" of the Milwaukee 7 initiative recently invited six college journalists from campus newspapers in other parts of the state to come to Milwaukee, where they would be wined (if they were old enough) and dined and shown some of the highlights of life in Wisconsin's biggest city.
Then, as the concept goes, the young journalists would realize how cool Milwaukee is, and they'd go back to their small-town colleges and tell all their friends about it. It could be a small antidote to Milwaukee’s brain drain.
So, team members David Fantle of Visit Milwaukee, Dean Amhaus of the Spirit of Milwaukee and Christian Bartley of the Wisconsin World Trade Center invited the journalists to spend a couple of nights at the newly renovated Intercontinental Hotel (formerly the Wyndham) Downtown.
They also invited a panel of real live Milwaukeeans to speak to these budding journalists about our fair city. The panel included Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editors George Stanley and David Haynes, Katie Peschel of Fuel Milwaukee and myself. So, we broke bread. And we spoke. And we listened. And we learned. On the following day, the journalists were taken on a guided, jam-packed tour of the Milwaukee 7 region, where they visited some of the area's top corporations and destinations.
"We hear so much about the brain drain and projected labor shortages in the region. We're educating students at so many fine colleges throughout the state, but unfortunately, we're losing a lot of them to cities that they perceive have more sizzle, such as Minneapolis and Chicago. By showing them all the region has to offer - granted in a very compressed timeframe - we wanted to shatter some misperceptions and show them that the region is a great place to live, work and play," Fantle said.
So, did Milwaukee's little viral marketing scheme work? Well, I decided to ask the student journalists about their Milwaukee junket. What do they think of Milwaukee now? Judge for yourself by the following e-mail responses from the students:
- "I just wanted to personally thank you for taking the time to join us for dinner last weekend. It was really cool to talk with you and listen to what you had to say. I have such a high opinion of Milwaukee now; I think I'm going to go to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee next year," replied Jacob Ethridge of The Free Press at the UW-Manitowoc. "Milwaukee, to me, was a city I drove through on my way to Chicago. I had been there, but never really was impressed with the city. After the short two days I spent there last weekend, I'm a Milwaukee fan … The biggest message I have tried to convey to my friends and peers is that there is more to Milwaukee than just beer and brats. There is nothing wrong with those things, but Milwaukee has so much more to offer. I think Milwaukee offers everything a major city has to offer, but without the traffic and as many troubles. There are many opportunities for a young person to advance their career, while being a part of a growing city that is full of history."
- "This was a great trip for me because beforehand, the only times I went to Milwaukee was for Brewers games and Summerfest, so it was nice to really explore the city more. I had a somewhat negative view of Milwaukee based on the crimes I always read about in the newspaper and the lack of the 'excitement' a place like Madison (college town) or Chicago (big city) have. What I found was that there is so much more to the city than I thought and would be a great place to live after graduation, which is coming up for me in about 2-1/2 months. It's a beautiful city rich in culture and history," said Mark Schaaf of the Spectator at the UW-Eau Claire. "I really enjoyed the lakefront. I'm kind of a sucker for that sort of thing, but it was absolutely beautiful down there, even for it being February. I could see myself spending a lot of time down there if I move to Milwaukee."
- "To be honest, I've never liked the smell of Milwaukee (not quite sure why exactly), but I've enjoyed some of the many recreational activities it has to offer. I don't think I've ever considered living in Milwaukee because it's reportedly one of the most discriminating cities in the country and its public schools are rated below most in the state. The city also attracts crime and drugs in certain areas of town," said Oconomowoc native Keegan Kyle of The Badger Herald at the UW-Madison. "After the trip, my perspective on living in Milwaukee is slightly improved. I would now consider living in Milwaukee as a young professional because it does offer a variety of nightlife, arts and culture. On the other hand, I'm still not sure I'd like to raise a family Downtown or in the surrounding neighborhoods."
- "For the most part, I'd only been on the North Side of Milwaukee, and although I knew the entire city wasn't like that, it did skew my impression of the city. I didn't know about the art museum and some of the rich culture that Milwaukee has, and although I knew plenty about Miller Park and the Miller Brewery, it was nice to stop by and visit them," said Tim Maylander of the Fourth Estate at the UW-Green Bay. "I think the networking and talking to all the different people was the best. Most of my friends had either seen Milwaukee or lived there already, but I told my parents about the wonderful experience I had, and I'm sharing it with my writing class too. After spring break, I'll be writing an article in my paper about the brain drain."
- "Oh, yes. I learned so much, and even if I turn out to be the worst writer in the world, the connections I made are worth it," said Christie McCowen of The Lawrentian at Lawrence University in Appleton. "I know, I sound like a broken record, but I'm really in awe by what you guys are doing. It is truly inspiring, and I will enjoy tracking your progress."
- "Before I visited, I figured that Milwaukee was just another city with nothing to offer but danger. I was really surprised at how much Milwaukee had to offer as far as culture went. It was extremely worthwhile. I had a great time and really learned a lot. I was so surprised at how little I knew about the metropolitan area," said Kelleen Nolan of The Racquet at the UW-La Crosse. "I have never stayed in such a chic hotel … I've been bragging about my trip since I returned to my friends, and I will be writing an article for the newspaper either for the next issue or for our return-from-spring-break issue."
As the student journalists share their impressions about Milwaukee with others in their little corners of the world, Milwaukee will get a grassroots boost at Wisconsin's college campuses.
"I think we have all been convinced that this was a big success and will most likely do it one or two times next school year. We know that in this region we have a great product, whether it deals with working, living, learning or playing in the region. We also know that no advertisement will ever get across what this region has become," Amhaus said. "It comes down to seeing is believing. These student journalists saw, and they now believe. The best part is that these leaders will now tell others, and slowly but surely will help breakdown that 'best kept secret' idea."
Wish someone would have wined and dined me when I was in college.
Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes in Milwaukee and is past president of the Milwaukee Press Club. BizTimes provides news and operational insight for the owners and managers of privately held companies throughout southeastern Wisconsin.
Steve has won several journalism awards as a reporter, a columnist and an editor. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
When he is not pursuing the news, Steve enjoys spending time with his wife, Kristi, and their two sons, Justin and James. Steve can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.