Looking to reverse the negative narrative surrounding San Francisco and attract more companies, a group of local business leaders and billionaires is rolling out a multimillion-dollar ad campaign to polish the city’s battered image.
(Bloomberg) — Looking to reverse the negative narrative surrounding San Francisco and attract more companies, a group of local business leaders and billionaires is rolling out a multimillion-dollar ad campaign to polish the city’s battered image.
The “It Starts Here” campaign, showcasing iconic Bay Area companies like Levi Strauss & Co., Apple Inc. and Pixar, will blanket the city with billboards, video and storefront posters ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in early November.
Spearheaded by business group Advance SF and backed by local corporate leaders including Ripple co-founder Chris Larsen and Gap Inc. board member Bob Fisher, the campaign is meant to inspire entrepreneurs to start their businesses in the city and also remind residents – and the world at large – why San Francisco is special in the first place.
That San Francisco even has to tout its entrepreneurial past is an unfamiliar position for a city that’s relied for so long on its natural beauty and dominance in the technology industry to attract people and businesses. But coming out of the pandemic, it has struggled with population loss, companies departing, record commercial vacancy rates and a reputation for crime that’s made headlines around the world.
Read More: San Francisco’s Streets Empty, While Nearby San Jose Is Booming
It’s “imperative” for the city’s cultural and industry leaders “to come together and begin reinforcing a story that a lot of people understand about San Francisco, but has been lost in the discussion,” said Larry Baer, chief executive officer of the San Francisco Giants and co-chair of Advance SF.
Opening with a shot of San Francisco’s infamous fog, the two-minute video is a love letter to the city’s history of innovation, from street cars and the juke box to brands like Gap, Waymo and OpenAI. Other elements of the campaign will showcase some of the Bay Area’s educational assets, like Stanford University and the University of California Berkeley and, in a playful nod, Monsters University, referring to the 2001 film Monsters Inc.
“I wrote this as a welcome mat for the future,” said Rich Silverstein, a 50-year-resident and founder of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, the advertising firm behind the campaign. “We’re open for business. Bring it on.”
San Francisco and especially its elected officials haven’t been in the position of having to pursue companies for years, said Fisher, the Gap board member and campaign backer. Miami, by comparison, has its mayor lead ing the charge to bring venture capital and startups to Florida.
“The city has long had the benefit of not needing to talk much about itself,” said Fisher, whose family has lived in San Francisco for six generations. “Over the last year the drumbeat of negative press just got to a point where I got to a personal breaking point.”
Still, an image campaign can’t erase challenges facing the city, including a fentanyl epidemic and lack of affordable housing. In September, Salesforce Inc. founder Marc Benioff threatened to pull the company’s Dreamforce conference from the city over concerns about safety and homelessness. He ultimately pressured the city into cleaning up its act ahead of the gathering, similar to the brand-polishing San Francisco is now undertaking ahead of APEC.
Read More: San Francisco Gets APEC Cash From Billionaires And Local Tribe
The ad also doesn’t reflect some of the difficulties of doing business in the city, including its high tax structure. A hypothetical tech company with $30 billion in sales and 10,000 local employees would pay at least 20 times more in San Francisco than other Bay Area locations, with the exception of Oakland, according to a report this year from the San Francisco Controller’s Office.
“I don’t think we’re looking for things to be sugar-coated,” Fisher said, acknowledging the obstacles the city faces. Still, he and many other business leaders believe the narrative has become over-blown and must be contested before tales of San Francisco’s demise become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“There’s a lot of people who want San Francisco to win,” he said. “Forget the doom loop, it’s the boom loop.”
More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.