By Reagan Pepper
I’ve lived in Mississippi for 12 years, and if there’s one thing I’ve noticed, the nation’s perception of us is based solely on statistics and history.
One would be a fool to deny that the state still bears the ugly scar of its history with rampant slavery and racism, which the nation (and the world) has no intent of forgiving us for any time soon.
Unfortunately, this perpetual grudge is furthered and worsened by statistics. Mississippi has the highest childhood obesity rate in the nation, the second highest adult obesity rate in the nation, the third highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation, receives the largest amount of federal aid and always ranks the highest in polls regarding the “stupidity” of states.
I would love to say there are positive statistics to combat this, but no such data exists. Instead, my fellow Mississippians and I are commonly left to defend our state on our own, with nothing more than beautiful scenery, down-home Southern cooking, a thriving arts culture and Southern charm and hospitality.
Even more unfortunate, Mississippi does not have a glowing desire to turn itself around—not as a whole anyways (in my opinion). I refuse to sit here and judge an entire state based on the bad apples; that’s what the rest of the nation does. But as a whole, we must observe that Mississippi (as a whole) remains largely unapologetic.
This is the reason stories about racism and educational neglect in Mississippi make the national news circuit so often. It feeds the media’s grudge. So although I can’t blame the media for Mississippi’s demise, I will place emphasis on their aid in it.
The media does not care about Mississippi. That’s been clear since the beginning, and I will say that time and time again without hesitance.
Take a look at the news and tell me what you see regarding Mississippi. It’s negative. All negative. The media is, in fact, so blinded by its age-old grudge against our state, that even positive news is seen as a fluke – thus even the positive news about Mississippi can be portrayed in a negative light. It’s honestly pathetic.
I did not come to these conclusions based on hatred for my own state’s ignorance, or even the media’s ignorance. This is also not just my personal bias. These are the feelings of many.
Because of the way the media and the nation has portrayed Mississippi in a negative light for so long, my approach will not be to change perception of the state, but to ignore the negative entirely and instead focus on the positive.
I believe it would be completely foolish to think that one campaign, or even five campaigns, could get the nation to change its entire opinion of our state.
This being said, I also refuse to cater to the entire nation with this campaign, because I think this perception problem starts at home. The name of the campaign will be MSconceptions, and it will target all Mississippians.
MSconceptions will push to bring to light positive aspects of Mississippi instead of focusing on negative aspects. It will do this by highlighting Mississippi culture through food, music and art. It will also focus on telling the story of successful Mississippians, from well-known names to everyday citizens.
We want to highlight the success of Mississippi people, and we know once we begin to make Mississippians realize how unique they are, we can plant the seed of changing perceptions of our state.
We would plan this around the state’s bicentennial, which is this year, specifically Dec. 10. However, since the bicentennial is being celebrated statewide all year long, we would plan for the campaign to take place during the month of November.
Thus events highlighting food, music, art and Mississippi successes would occur throughout the month, resulting in a final weekend of events, including a carnival (for kids) and a gala (for adults). The carnival would be held in Jackson at the state fairgrounds, and the gala would be held at the capital.
MSconceptions would utilize all forms of communications, including social media, mass media and controlled media. We would create a website for the campaign and social media accounts on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
We would create a Snapchat filter for the carnival and gala. We would constantly send out press releases and media alerts – anything to get the mass media to cover our campaign.
Because the campaign would be a month long, we would need a highly strategized communications plan, timeline and a hard-working team of staff and volunteers to make this happen.
We would evaluate the campaign by following media impressions statewide and nationwide, but our large emphasis would be on statewide reactions since that is our target public.
Our evaluation would also largely pertain to information gathered through surveys (which would be compared to the results of surveys we administer during our primary and secondary research phases) and focus groups.
We hope our campaign will reach statewide, despite events occurring in Jackson. We obviously won’t be upset with an impact of some sort on the nation, but that is not our main concern.
Because this is completely hypothetical, I cannot fathom how the campaign would pan out. I believe this problem’s solution starts with our own citizens, so a success would be to leave them focusing on the positives of their state rather than the negatives.
I do not think this is an impossible task. If successful, we’d like to make it an annual campaign, so after the first one, we could gauge the success and go from there. Through MSconceptions we can change the perception of Mississippi, one citizen at a time.