Economy Needs Boost


    HOLLAND — After the tears and the prayers, the giving of blood and money, after airing their feelings to friends, family and co-workers, the staff at The Image Group went back to work doing what they do best — being creative.

    In the days following the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the U.S., they wanted to do something else, something more, to help.

    Their answer was to go to bat for the U.S. economy and try to do their small part to keep it from sliding even further in the aftermath of the attacks.

    The product of their effort is a billboard campaign designed to encourage people to spend money. The Image Group wants to give away the designs to business organizations around the state and is open to refining the designs for any takers, as well as developing print or radio campaigns using the same theme.

    “Make a charitable donation — to the economy,” reads one of the billboard designs.

    All of the billboard concepts feature various sayings in white letters against a blue background that depicts the star field from the American flag. The billboard is bordered on the bottom with a thick black line and the phrase “Go buy something” or “Go buy anything.”

    The campaign’s goal is to unite people and prevent a wary public from crawling into a shell and sending the economy into further decline.

    “Being paralyzed is just what the terrorists want. Let’s just keep moving forward,” said Dayna Beal, managing partner of The Image Group, a Holland-based communications firm.

    “We’ve got to get people over that hump collectively and say, ‘Hey, we’re all in this together,’” Beal said. “We’re trying to move a whole body of people — ‘Hey, I’m in. I’m nervous, I’m scared, but I’m in and I’m going to do my part.’”

    Concerns about the economy, and its potential effects on his colleagues across the nation, is what prompted Jeff Grooters to work on designing a campaign to encourage consumer spending.

    A creative developer at The Image Group, the 34-year-old Grooters sees America as “a nation that likes to create things.” If the economy falters, Grooters reasons, there are a lot of people who’ll lose their jobs and no longer have the capability to create.

    “I started thinking about all the people out there being creative, and they’re going to curl it up and pack it in for awhile? That would be a shame, that would be awful,” Grooters said.

    Consumer spending has been largely credited with keeping the U.S. economy out of recession throughout the year, even as the manufacturing sector fell sharply. That changed with the Sept. 11 attacks.

    Retail sales nationwide fell a sharp 2.4 percent from August to September, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, as consumer confidence faltered. A recent University of Michigan survey found consumer confidence by months’ end beginning to pick up and actually increase overall from September to October.

    Retailers in Michigan saw “no traffic at all” in the days after the attack, Michigan Retailers Association CEO Larry Meyer said.

    Sales since then have rebounded “step, by step, by step,” Meyer said, “and we’re looking for steady improvement.”

    Despite the improved showing, and given the state of the economy before the attacks, Meyer sees coordinated efforts to boost consumer confidence as necessary.

    “Clearly this is a consumer-consumptive economy. Nothing happens until we sell something,” Meyer said. “We’ve got to have the consumer buying, and he and she have to get to feeling comfortable. You don’t buy until you feel comfortable about yourself.”

    The nation’s travel and hospitality industries have been particularly hard hit.

    The American Society of Travel Agents, for instance, estimates total losses for its segment of the travel industry of $1.36 billion in the four weeks following the attacks. Travel agencies lost $440 million alone from Sept. 11 to Sept. 17 when the nation’s air system was shut down, the association estimates.

    On a local level, motel and hotel occupancy rates in the Holland area are down in the weeks since the attacks, when compared to the same period a year earlier. Sally Laukitis, director of the Holland Area Visitors Bureau, is unsure exactly how much of a role the attacks played in the drop in business and how much to attribute it to an already soft economy.

    Laukitis, however, sees a definite need for campaigns such as the one The Image Group is offering and plans to pitch the idea to her membership for involvement.

    “If there’s a way we can support it, very definitely,” Laukitis said. “I think it’s got to happen.”

    But it’s one thing for The Image Group to offer a campaign, and another to actually get it off the ground.

    So Beal is hoping to network and partner with chambers of commerce and travel bureaus across the state, as well as billboard companies that are willing to offer free use of their signs.

    “To pull this thing off is going to take a variety of different types of people,” he said. “You really have to get a lot of organizations together to make it happen. We’re hoping to get some additional energy from somebody.”

    The Image Group’s billboard campaign is part of a wave of sentiment that began sweeping across the country a few weeks ago, said Jim Barrett, president and chief executive officer of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. Once the initial shock of the Sept. 11 attacks began to wane, a general feeling of resolve began to emerge, aimed at preventing the present economic downturn from worsening into a prolonged recession, Barrett said.

    “There’s a concerted effort to try to encourage economic activity,” Barrett said.

    One of those efforts is called “Michigan Fights Back,” a campaign launched by business and civic leaders and news media in Lansing to encourage consumer spending and boost the economy. The goal is “to talk about the importance of not letting acts of terrorism discourage people from living their normal lives, which includes purchasing goods and services and making investments in the long term,” Barrett said.

    “There is a resolve that we don’t foster an environment that will encourage terror in the future,” he said.

    The Image Group’s billboard designs stem from conversations among staffers around the office following Sept. 11, and what they could do about it. The feeling was “the world has changed. That being the case, what’s your move?” said Mark Tanis, founder and president of The Image Group.

    From that context, the “go shopping idea” evolved and a campaign to encourage consumers to support the economy emerged, Beal said.

    “It was just kind of birthed,” he said. “People picked up on it and they just started to run with it.”

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