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Defining Chicago: Media Perception & How New Leadership Might Influence the City's PR

Lauren Eichmann

So Chicago has officially decided its mayor-elect.

Rahm Emanuel has certainly been the topic of headlines since back in November when it was announced that he may not qualify for the ballot since he allegedly failed to meet residency requirements. The headlines kept coming when the Illinois court in January threw Emanuel's name off the ballot, only to later rule that he could stay on the ballot. This back-and-forth in the media, however, apparently did little to sway voter confidence that he was right for the job;  Emanuel won the race, with many media outlets defining it as a ‘large margin’ win and ‘easy victory’.

It’s a reality that Emanuel will have a daunting task ahead of him, with the city facing some of its largest budget deficits in history. Besides being on the brink of bankruptcy, the Sun Times did a nice roundup of other city problems Emanuel must face.

So this poses the question: Will Emanuel be successful in getting the city back on track? What will he do (and what can he do) to resurrect the city’s image and make it not only a city people want to visit, but want to live? After all, recent census data showed Chicago’s population dropped dramatically (by almost 200,000) within the past decade. 

Ben Bowman of NBC’s Ward Room wrote in a post: “This isn't the time for moderation. Chicago needs some big ideas to survive.”

While there are certainly important fiscal decisions that need to be made, PR can and will play a large role in public perception of the city. So how has Chicago been perceived so far?

I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some successful PR Chicago has achieved to date:

  • Cultural Chicago. The Museum of Science and Industry’s Month at the Museum back in October generated a lot of press for Chicago. Tribune reporter Steve Johnson even suggested some other PR stunts the city might want to pursue (on a cultural level). 
  • Oprah Chicago. Back in Sept. 2009 Oprah got the city’s OK to shut down the Mag Mile to kick off her 24th season. The backing of big personalities like Oprah, who stated that, “Chicago is the greatest city in the world,” can only do good things PR-wise. 
  • Foodie Chicago. The fourth season of ‘Top Chef’ was filmed in Chicago in 2008, with Stephanie Izard becoming a local sensation and drawing rave reviews for her West Loop restaurant (which I can confirm, is fantastic). Overall, Chicago is known for its food, with other top chefs like Grant Achatz and Laurent Gras adding to the publicity of Chicago’s food scene (though Gras is now headed to New York).
  • Hollywood Chicago. Since Mayor Daley took office in 1989, more than 900 movies/TV shows have been shot in Chicago. Chicago Magazine pulled together a list of the Top 40. According to the Tribune, this has stimulated $1.4 billion in the local economy. Some of the most recent movies/TV shows? ‘Source Code,’ ‘The Chicago Code,’ ‘Transformers 3,’ The Vow,’ ‘Contagion’ and upcoming ‘Batman 3,’ among others.
  • Global Chicago. Not only did Chicago compete in the Olympic bid, which drew attention to the city, but also recently hosted Hu Jintao, President of the People’s Republic of China. It was his first visit to Chicago, and the only other city Jintao visited besides Washington D.C. According to Mayor Daley in a press release, the visit served to build upon a relationship that “advances the common interests and shared concerns of China and Chicago – establishing Chicago as China’s economic ‘Gateway to America.’”

In what other ways would you define Chicago, or how have you heard the city defined in the media? Feel free to share ideas for how Emanuel can help change or emphasize that perception moving forward. Would love to hear your thoughts!