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Boston’s diversity campaign puts accent on the positive

Effort aimed at changing Boston’s image

Brian Wright O’Connor
Boston’s diversity campaign puts accent on the positive
Publicist Colette Phillips discusses the All Inclusive Boston campaign during a press conference at City Hall. PHOTO: JOHN WILCOX, MAYOR’S OFFICE

An inventive national marketing campaign puts the accents of Boston front and center in a push designed and run by local entrepreneurs of color.

The effort cleverly highlights the Hub’s many accents — broadly construed.

Beyond the broad ‘a’s and dropped ‘r’s of stereotyped Boston speech, the campaign features “accents” as in the flourish of a chef’s seasoning, the languages of a diverse population and the intellectual sass of a city famously built upon a hill.

The multimedia campaign was unveiled this week with hopes of attracting new visitors to the Hub and convincing current residents to explore the city’s diverse neighborhoods.

Speaking at a City Hall press conference, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu on Monday introduced the second phase of the “All Inclusive Boston” campaign launched by Mayor Marty Walsh in 2021 and overseen since by veteran publicist and civic booster Colette Phillips.

The $1.5 million push to reshape Boston’s image as a city more welcoming and inclusive than widely perceived will rely primarily on a national broadcast and digital media buy, supported locally by media partner NBC-10.

A 30-second ad produced by Proverb, a minority-owned agency, shows various figures from Boston’s human palette declaring with pride, “This is my Boston accent.”

An Asian chef working over a grill, a scally-capped bar patron hoisting a pint, and prominent Boston intellectual Ibram Kendi speaking softly in the iconic reading room of the Boston Public Library are a few of the Hub characters accented in the upbeat video.

Segun Idowu, Boston’s chief of economic opportunity; Mayor Wu; Colette Phillips; Martha Sheridan, president of Greater Boston
Convention and Visitors Bureau; Daren Bascome, founder of Proverb ad agency; T.J. Douglas, owner of Urban Grape; and Maggie Baxter, NBC-10 Boston vice president of programming. PHOTO: ERINT IMAGES

In the closing sequence, a beaming Black woman with a nose ring — large, lovely and proud — stands on a restaurant terrace overlooking the city skyline and proclaims, “This is our Boston accent. Hear it for yourself. Discover your own.”

“This is Boston. And we,” she adds, “are all inclusive.”

Mayor Wu said the time is long overdue for Boston to reach outward and inward to show that everyone is welcome. She recalled her early experiences as a daughter of immigrants in a city where racial tensions had erected barriers between communities — an image of the city that stubbornly endures.

“I remember the first time I came to City Hall, and I felt very scared, coming to this big hulking concrete building,” said Wu, who last year became the first woman and person of color elected mayor in the city’s history. “Any government building was one of the places where we were not seen or heard. And this campaign allows us all to be heard.”

Segun Idowu, the city’s chief of economic opportunity and inclusion, said the campaign cuts against what he grew up expecting from images of Boston projected in the media.

“You didn’t expect to see yourself included,” he said.

While putting out a welcome mat for a more diverse mix of tourists, the marketing effort also will lure Boston residents to experience all their own town offers, he said.

“There were friends of mine growing up in Dorchester who had never been to Charlestown,” he said. “It’s all about convincing our own residents to imbibe in all that is Boston.”

Like the 2021 campaign, this year’s effort will feature billboards and out-of-town marketing designed to reverse the image of Boston as unfriendly to people of color.

During a long year of slumping tourist visits and small-business contractions, the diversity push generated 4,000 new trips to the city, attracted 56.2 million impressions on all social media platforms and increased traffic to the city’s tourism website by 400 percent, according to figures provided by the city.

Idowu said he hoped the 2022 push would at least double new visits.

The total contract value of the two-year campaign comes to nearly $4 million, the largest non-construction vendor award ever won from City Hall by a minority firm.

Phillips said she expected the investment would pay off in the form of increased revenues for local businesses as well as a surge of interest in Boston as a career destination for people of color, citing the difficulties of recruiting diverse professionals to stake their future in the city.

“We’re not just talking about attracting visitors and residents, but potential employees,” she said.

Daren Bascome, founder of the Proverb ad agency, said his many travels taught him “there are a lot of ways to do the right thing.” The exposure of journeying around the world, he added, gave him perspective on Boston’s unique mix of blue-collar life and artistic, academic and intellectual pursuits.

Capturing that mix in the accent campaign was his goal, said Bascome: “The way we do the things we do with a particular Boston flair.”

Noting that the campaign launch fell upon the anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, Phillips said the effort to weave together economic, social, artistic and political forces to bring people together personified King’s vision of a beloved community.

Boston tourism, Colette Phillips, Darren Bascom, Inclusive Boston