Talk It Up: No Mean City

Sometimes marketing Indy is as simple as singing its praises.
A husband-and-wife butcher team. A genre-mixing rapper. A world-renowned golf-course designer. They may sound like they have little in common, but they blend seamlessly in No Mean City, a marketing campaign that has become something bigger. Through a print publication and a website with stories celebrating Indy’s quirky residents, neighborhoods, and attractions, the initiative aims to inspire more people to live in Marion County.
No Mean City began with a challenge from former Mayor Greg Ballard, who noticed a disturbing trend. Although high-paying employers were drawing recruits to the area, many of those employees were shunning the city for the comfort of the suburbs and taking their tax dollars with them. Indy had plenty to offer, but too often, residents were shy about selling it. This project sought to peel off the city’s humble Midwestern layer and reveal its “true grit,” according to Molly Chavers, executive director of IndyHub, which co-created the campaign. “I think we have an inferiority complex,” she says. “We wanted people who live here to stop talking badly about the place.”
IndyHub, along with partners at Pivot Marketing,  the Indy Chamber, and the Central Indiana Community Foundation, researched 500 individuals over 15 months to determine why people left Indianapolis and what might lure them back. They took the campaign name from a 1909 quote by then-Mayor Charles Bookwalter, which is inscribed on Old City Hall’s cornerstone: “I am, myself, a citizen of no mean city.” Bookwalter wasn’t talking about his city’s Hoosier hospitality, but declaring that Indianapolis defied the mathematical mean. It is anything but average.
In addition to realty resources, business profiles, and neighborhood guides, features a primer on Indianapolis schools, comforting parents whose priority is education. The crusade already has yielded some positive results. From smaller groups such as FirstPerson to large corporations such as IU Health and Cummins, employers are sending No Mean City’s resources to prospective hires. At the start of 2017, the campaign ramped up its digital promotion in other cities, including nearby Columbus, Ohio. Thanks largely to social-media shares locally, the website’s average monthly traffic has grown 387 percent in the past six months. The response to No Mean City “proves the power of putting a little promotion behind a collaborative effort,” Chavers says. “There’s a lesson to be learned from Indy: By nature, we work pretty well together to get the word out.”