Let’s face it: Chicago doesn’t have the best image these days. Ongoing budget woes. Accusations of police brutality. A skyrocketing murder rate. Making matters worse, the head of Choose Chicago, the tourism board charged with putting the best face on the city, recently announced he was leaving.

Policy changes are in order to really fix Chicago, of course. Newcity editor and publisher Brian Hieggelke, for one, thinks the city could take a cue from Colombia. (Yes, that Colombia.) A concerted effort to control crime there and invest in blighted areas has flipped perceptions and helped woo tourists. The same could work here, says Hieggelke: “Create hyperincentives for economic development on the South Side by tying corporate relocation incentive programs to specific sites.”

But what can be done now to lift the city’s image? Here, three ideas for whoever takes over Choose Chicago. (You’re welcome.)



Get listed

Anne Mitchell, associate professor of communication at Columbia College Chicago

Photo: istockphoto

“Get our name on magazine lists of top 10 cities for getaway weekends. You don’t see us on enough of those, but they provide a counterargument to the negative stories. That should be a basic job of the city’s communicators— look at editorial calendars, get your story told to editors. It’s not magic. It’s hard work. And by setting goals for what lists we’d like to be included on, we can make good city planning decisions. The arrival of Divvy, for example, its growth here, and the increase in bike paths and lanes have all contributed to Chicago coming in sixth last year on Forbes’s most bike-friendly cities list. Bike friendliness reaches millennials. They want to live in cities that are making environmentally friendly choices.”


Chicago collage

Engage visitors

Nate Brown, Steve Horn, Dave Merriman, Carrie Seanor, Bob Volkman, and David Yang of ad agency Tom, Dick & Harry Creative Co.

“We created this poster [above] featuring the built-in verb in ‘Chicago’ that says it all. If this were to be part of a real tourism campaign, we envision a contest to guess where all the ‘go’ icons come from. The winner would receive a free VIP trip. Also, people would add their ‘Go Chicago’ photos on Instagram. The next poster in the series would highlight all the ‘Hi’s’—another word built right into our name—to play up our friendliness.”


Vince Vaughn, Harrison Ford, and John Cusack

Tap movie stars

Nick Kalm, founder and president of public relations firm Reputation Partners

Photos: (Vaughn) Rob Latour/Invision/AP; (Ford) Jon Kopaloff/Chicago Tribune; (Cusack) Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune

“We’re in a very celebrity-focused culture, so we should be using ones who live or grew up here. There’s an overreliance on Michael Jordan and Oprah again and again. Use people like Vince Vaughn, Harrison Ford, and John Cusack to sing the city’s praises, like in the ‘Visit California’ commercials.”

Your turn How would you give Chicago a face-lift? Share your ideas in the comments below.