As the pandemic crisis struck local communities, leaders emerged, volunteer programs multiplied, and efforts to boost morale spread. In the terms of business and politics, many of these were partly efforts of branding and profile-raising. But which ones worked, which ones fell by the wayside, and will any have impacts after the immediate crisis is over? Down the road, will anyone still say “Brookhaven Strong” or remember that a local restaurant donated food? The Reporter asked professors of marketing, business and politics for their perspectives on some local examples.

 

‘Brookhaven Strong’

“Brookhaven Strong” yard signs were available for purchase at the HOBNOB Neighborhood Tavern in Town Brookhaven on Memorial Day weekend. (Phil Mosier)

The city of Brookhaven promoted this phrase, including as a social media hashtag, and connected it to two events: a virtual community sing-along of the national anthem and an art contest. The Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce is now using the phrase on yard signs and T-shirts.

The “Army Strong” recruiting slogan introduced in 2006 inspired a trend toward using “X Strong” to highlight the resilience of communities affected by natural disasters or acts of violence, or to show support for a health or social cause. While many people think of “Boston Strong” due its wide publicity following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, its usage is now often more localized. It would be interesting to know what associations the city was seeking to leverage by using something recognizable versus using something more generic, like “Together Brookhaven.”

The strength of “Brookhaven Strong” is that it is not simply a slogan, but an umbrella for a number of citywide initiatives and programming to bring interested people together and show support in this time of great anxiety and uncertainty, and suffering for some. Their focus is correct; it’s about making sure they’re a community and that those who need support feel that they’re not alone.

It will be interesting to see what, if anything, sticks. There’s no reason to think they couldn’t retain some of the new community building programming once we get through this. And, if yes, does the slogan stay with it as a reminder of its roots? A challenge is that there is usually a segment of the population who wants closure, to move on after the healing is done, though perhaps that is more for natural disasters or acts of violence.

–Douglas Bowman, professor of marketing at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, where he teaches product and brand management

 

‘Everything Will Be OK’

The “Everything Will Be OK” yard signs. (Special)

This phrase appears on a popular mural in Dunwoody and has been adopted as a quasi-official motto. During the pandemic, the nonprofits Create Dunwoody and Spruill Center for the Arts began selling yard-sign versions of the mural as a fundraiser for out-of-work artists, at first to great success. However, Jason Scott Kofke, the original artist of the mural soon raised copyright objections, placing the Dunwoody effort on hold, while marketing his own “Everything Will Be OK” products. An agreement was reached, but the nonprofits soon ended the sign-selling.

Years ago, my daughter was given the “Everything Will Be OK” slogan on magnets from the Spruill Center for the Arts. There was no attribution to the artist, Jason Kofke, so I always attributed it to the center. When I encountered the signs throughout my neighborhood recently, I found them relevant, encouraging and uplifting. Now all of that is going away and we will all be worse off for it.

Dunwoody’s “Everything will be OK” yard sign fundraiser is a textbook example of good intentions gone awry. Create Dunwoody was established to enable local artists to enrich the lives of the local community, and this can be of huge value: We need organizations that mutually reinforce a dynamic between the arts, education, community, and commerce. Local artists understand the heartbeat of the community and can inspire us to see our circumstances and our possibilities differently. During this unprecedented pandemic, we need their perspectives more than ever.

Unfortunately, this partnership suffered from a fatal incentive problem: artists must remain anonymous and, as evidenced with Jason Kofke, they may not be compensated for their creative work. An artist’s reputation and creativity is the cornerstone for commerce; a partnership that stifles financial growth and opportunity is doomed from the start. It’s unfortunate that these fatal missteps have cost all of us inspiration from local artists.

Moving on to a better “new normal” requires us to not waste the learnings from this crisis. Let’s commit to building better, win-win partnerships that benefit artists and educators and strengthen our communities in the days ahead.

–Sandy Jap is the Sarah Beth Brown Professor of Marketing at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School and the author of “Partnering with the Frenemy”

 

Atlanta’s mayor as reopening critic

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. (File)

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms emerged as a prominent critic of Gov. Brian Kemp’s reopening orders, including in national media appearances.

While there are even more prominent Kemp opponents — former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams immediately comes to mind — none are as well-positioned to make the case against the governor. Like her counterparts in big cities across the country, Mayor Bottoms has hands-on experience in managing the response to viral outbreaks. But unlike those other mayors, she has had to contend with a governor who isn’t on the same page with her.

Whether she would have sought the role that was thrust on her by the governor’s order, she certainly has embraced it, appearing frequently on national media platforms to voice her concerns.

While I have no doubt that her concerns are authentic and heartfelt, it is still reasonable to consider the political consequences of the role she is playing. In the first place, there is no downside for her. She runs no risk in her city or her party for criticizing Kemp. And the governor is smart enough to know that he can’t retaliate against the city that is the engine of Georgia’s economy.

As for the upside, we can think about statewide and national consequences. Right now, Abrams could have the Democratic nomination for any statewide office she seeks. As the state becomes more competitive (as it’s reasonable to expect that it will), we have to remember that Abrams can hold only one office at a time and that she likely has her eyes eventually on a national office. Mayor Bottoms is a plausible contender for any office that Abrams doesn’t seek or that she leaves behind.

A few years ago, I would have said that big-city mayors aren’t cut out for the national political scene. Someone from a big city playing on the national stage wanted to be — I would have guessed — Housing and Urban Development secretary in a Democratic administration. But geography and demography make metropolitan areas the core of the Democratic coalition, and Bloomberg and Buttigieg showed that mayors can be players.

I’m not arguing that we should expect Keisha Lance Bottoms to aspire to the Oval Office. But a successful mayoralty, together with a national profile, could launch her into statewide contention.

–Joseph Knippenberg, professor of politics at Oglethorpe University

 

Restaurants as donors

The Sandy Springs restaurant Under the Cork Tree was converted into a food pantry. (File)

Early in the pandemic, there were nonstop announcements of restaurants donating food to hospitals/first responders and breweries making hand sanitizer. Locally, two restaurants temporarily converted into food pantries

Amidst the horrors of the pandemic, individuals and organizations have also found creative ways to maintain civic connection to one another. Among these are the dozens of local restaurants that have opened their arms and their doors to deliver food to front-line workers or turn their kitchens into food pantries.

These are examples of what social scientists have coined “social infrastructure,” or those physical spaces (including small businesses) that bring people together to achieve collective goods or simply provide a safe place to gather. In crisis, such infrastructure can be a key source of mutual aid and resiliency. For example, one of the entrepreneurs in our Start:ME accelerator, Springreens Community Café, has provided more than 5,000 free hot meals in the East Lake community since late April. It is possible that such generous acts may provide benefits down the road as patrons see that restaurants are so much more than places to eat.

The pandemic has shown that restaurants and other small businesses also comprise the connective tissue that holds communities together in times of crisis. But shifting to a food pantry or developing a delivery service also builds goodwill in a community, produces innovative revenue streams, and keeps some key employees working.

Are there downsides to more restaurants jumping onto the giving bandwagon? Probably not so long as neighbors need food and local farmers and other suppliers need reliable income. However, giving away supplies for free in a makeshift food pantry is not sustainable. It is a distinctive display of the incredible resilience and generosity of our city’s food industry, but also reveals the broken system of food distribution that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

–Wesley Longhofer, associate professor of organization and management, Emory University’s Goizueta Business School

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