Baltimore’s chief brand officer, Sarah Schaffer, rallied her team at Visit Baltimore — the city’s tourism marketing arm — early Saturday, almost immediately after President Donald Trump punched “Tweet” on his electronic missive denigrating Charm City.
Schaffer said a flurry of texts, calls and emails led the team to a clear conclusion: Trump’s attack on Baltimore was unprecedented and required a decisive rebuttal.
“There is more to Baltimore than rodents and refuse, and we wanted to make sure we made that clear,” Schaffer said.
Their solution: a bold full-page advertisement in Monday’s editions of The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post, declaring: “People are talking about Baltimore. And there’s more to know about this Great American City, where our neighbors are proud to live, work, build, create, and play.”
For Baltimore boosters, like Visit Baltimore, Trump’s attack offers a chance to change the city’s narrative.
The Republican president took to social media Saturday, Sunday and Monday to attack U.S Rep. Elijah Cummings, the Maryland Democrat. Trump called Cummings a “brutal bully” who represents a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested” district that is a “very dangerous & filthy place.”
Cummings’ majority-black 7th District includes swaths of Baltimore and portions of Baltimore and Howard counties. The longtime representative — who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — stoked the president’s ire after Cummings blasted the administration for its treatment of children being held at overcrowded border patrol facilities and the committee approved subpoenas for some White House communications.
Donald C. Fry, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee, invited Trump to visit Baltimore and tour the city with its leading business executives. He wants to show the president the educational institutions and companies based here, along with historic sites and neighborhoods. The GBC found Trump’s attacks on both Cummings and the city to be disappointing and unfair.
“If the President were to spend just one day in Baltimore talking with residents in the neighborhoods; doctors and nurses at Johns Hopkins, University of Maryland and other outstanding medical institutions; meet with the innovative businesses that are expanding the economy including Under Armour; see the significant private sector investment taking place; and observe the millennials that have chosen to call the city their home, he would see why Baltimore is truly one of the most dynamic cities in America today,” Fry said in a statement.
Just hours before Trump’s Saturday tweeting, Annie Milli, who runs Live Baltimore to recruit and retain residents, had wrapped up a celebration of Baltimore’s 290th birthday. The event drew more than 700 people from 50-plus communities. She said the president’s commentary is causing Baltimore backers to double down and amplify one another’s voices.
“City dwellers with an urban gene are not dissuaded by what this man has to say about us,” Milli said. “The opportunity to show off more about what’s great about our city — while acknowledging our challenges — has gotten more people to rally around us.”
Trump’s tweets prompted a social media campaign — #wearebaltimore — to emerge over the weekend. Also in response, a new website Wearebaltimore.com launched earlier than expected to showcase “all that’s right with Baltimore, enabling all communities and stakeholders to engage and share their positive experiences and highlight the many ways they are creating a promising future for the city they’ve invested in and choose to live, learn and leisure and do business.”
From the civic pride expressed by current and former residents to the solidarity from officials in other urban centers, the episode has been unifying, said Michael Evitts, a Downtown Partnership senior vice president.
“Through our adversity comes strength,” said Evitts, adding that the tweets have elevated conversation around a history of inequity that has contributed to Baltimore’s challenges.
For Visit Baltimore, running the ad cost a “six-figure amount” out of its $16.8 million budget. But, Schaffer said, the price was “worthwhile." The ad also is scheduled to be published Tuesday in the Washington-zoned editions of The New York Times.
“It is unprecedented to have a president attempt to debase a great American city,” said Schaffer, adding, "We wanted to take the opportunity with the spotlight on us to tell the real story.”
A team of six at the organization worked Saturday and Sunday to design the ad. Schaffer said they assembled an assortment of “bragworthy” designations that have been bestowed on the city:
Fifth on Forbes’ list of Top 10 rising cities for startups.
Fifth on Entrepreneur magazine’s top cities for minority entrepreneurs.
The ad also notes that the Johns Hopkins Hospital is third on U.S. News & World Report’s 2018-19 list of best hospitals. And that The Wall Street Journal designates Baltimore as one of the three best U.S. cities for recent college grads.
It includes a nod to a larger Visit Baltimore campaign: “We’d love to meet you.” Schaffer said Visit Baltimore promotes the city’s entrepreneurs and artisans — “Meet the Makers” — as a way to encourage visitors to collect experiences during their stay.
The organization plans to launch rebranding campaign in the spring that will resonate with locals and entice travelers from across the country and the world, Schaffer said. Trump’s tweets gave them a head start.