By Alexa Bortles
Born and raised in Georgia, I always wear my Southern roots with pride. However, I am guilty as charged when it comes to my perception of Mississippi.
My stereotypical perception of Mississippi became noticeably apparent when I was being recruited by Ole Miss women’s Head Tennis Coach Mark Beyers. Initially when Coach Beyers was trying to sell me the school and town of Oxford, he was wasting his breath. I already had a perception of Mississippi, and there was no way I was going to play tennis and attend a university in such a boring, redneck state.
It is nearly impossible to sugarcoat the perception of Mississippi among my friends and people who live elsewhere. Mississippi is viewed as a state full of farms and little civilization where the only source of entertainment comes from driving tractors, farming, hunting, fishing and many other stereotypical redneck festivities.
I recently had a personal experience with Mississippi’s perception while my family was in town for the weekend. At the beginning of the semester, my car was damaged in a mild car wreck.
As a temporary fix before I return home for the summer, my dad made me duct tape my bumper. When I was showing my uncle the damage, the first thing he said was, “You live in Mississippi now, so duct tape means it is good as new.”
One observation I’ve made throughout my first semester at Ole Miss is that unless people are from or live in Mississippi, they usually don’t have a very positive outlook on the state as a whole. It’s hard to pinpoint where the harsh stereotypical views of Mississippi originated, but they seem to have been around for quite some years.
I find that the media coverage of Mississippi is extremely underdeveloped. Before moving here for school, I rarely heard anything about the state, and even now, I feel as if there is very little information.
Maybe the uncovered information and portrayal of Mississippi has something to do with the cliche viewpoint people have developed over the years.
Before I began my marketing campaign process I thought it would be interesting to ask some of my teammates what their perspective of Mississippi was. I only have three American teammates, so I knew I would receive a variety of answers.
I began by asking teammate Allie Sanford from Phoenix, Arizona about her perception of Mississippi. The amount of times I’ve witnessed people’s jaws drop when she informs them she is from Phoenix is countless.
When I asked her what her perception was, she answered “Pshhh, hunting, fishing, fried chicken, and everything in between.”
As hard as I wanted to laugh, this was similar to my perception as well. I then asked senior Zalina Khairudinova from Kazakhstan. She said, “I had never heard of Mississippi in my life, and even if you paid me, I wouldn’t know where to find it on the map.”
To summarize, the answers I received from my teammates were all very similar and stereotypical. Based on their perceptions, one would never guess they would end up at school in Mississippi.
Proceeding with my campaign, I decided there is no better way to reach people than through social media. My campaign will be a free downloadable app called Mississippi For Real.
The purpose of my app is to inform people about Mississippi and what it has to offer. Furthermore, I will include facts about the state along with countless success stories.
I will also use Mississippi For Real as a resource for companies throughout Mississippi who are trying to hire out-of-state employees, sell to clients, or interact with prospects in general.
I was also once in the position of someone trying to sell Mississippi to me as a place to call home, and I can honestly say I rolled my eyes numerous times. With my easy to access application, people will see what Mississippi truly is and the amount of success and happiness that comes from the beautiful Southern state.
In order to execute my plan, I will advertise my app by creating virtual and physical flyers to distribute among companies and schools. I think my app will be a great resource for anyone trying to uncover Mississippi’s true roots, but especially useful for schools, such as Ole Miss and corporations.
Fortunately, my step-dad and his company create Apple applications nearly every day, and they were able to help me create a temporary app for my campaign. After I developed Mississippi For Real, I then created an advertisement flyer tester and used it throughout the process.
My first stop was at the University of Mississippi’s compliance office. I picked a few people’s brains and asked if Mississippi For Real would be something they’d be interested in using while interacting with prospective students and employees. My compliance officer said it would be a great campaign idea for trying to sell Mississippi and Ole Miss.
Before they began their annual campus tours, they could assist the prospects in downloading the app and allow them to use it as the tour and visit proceeded.
Moving on, I decided to speak to someone who has an even more up-close experience with trying to sell Mississippi to individuals. When I presented my flyer to Coach Mark Beyers and informed him of my campaign, I was thrilled with his enthusiasm.
My coach spends his days and nights trying to sell Mississippi to people all over the world. He claimed, “It’s hard to sell Mississippi to athletes when they are talking to schools located in cities with reputations like Miami, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and all the other desirable cities people dream of living in. No one wakes up dreaming to live in Mississippi.”
I can testify to the fact that Coach Beyers does everything in his power to portray Mississippi in a bright light, but that is no easy task. Coach informed me that I had a great campaign idea that could potentially thrive as a university resource helping to attract individuals to the Mississippi.
I may have had little time and room to expand my campaign, but I think I got my message across. It is not necessarily that Mississippi is portrayed in a negative light by the media. However, you simply don’t hear much about the state in general.
If I had more time, I would expand my advertisement throughout Mississippi and speak to companies and schools throughout the state. I would look at different social media advertisement strategies to reach out to people through our number one driving resource – media.
The perception of Mississippi somewhat speaks for itself on a stereotypical level. However one thing I’ve learned throughout this process is, even people like myself who don’t know how or why they ended up in Mississippi, a majority can honestly call it home.