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Mystery out in campaign to update Pittsburgh region's image

Thursday, May 24, 2001

By Dan Fitzpatrick, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Project 84, a proposed advertising and marketing campaign built on a free plane ride to a "mystery city," has taken a midair turn.

Project planners have abandoned the idea of pitching Pittsburgh as that "mystery city," basing their decision on premature publicity in area newspapers.

"The word is out," said Kevin Lane, a spokesman for the Pittsburgh Technology Council.

The council and the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, architects of the campaign, still want to market Pittsburgh in certain parts of the country, targeting technology workers ages 25 to 40. But gone is the idea to air television ads promising people an all-expenses-paid trip to a "mystery city."

Theoretically, people would have signed up for the trip without knowing the ultimate destination.

"Some of you will be whisked away to an unknown destination," a proposed version of the ad read. "To a place where technology and life merge ... Where the fast track comes with bicycle trails ... And where you can really afford to get a life." The ad's last frame, featuring an airplane and a pair of thick, dark glasses perched on the plane's nose, promised people "your all-expense paid trip outta here."

Three weeks before the trip, Pittsburgh was to have been revealed as the mystery destination, according to a Project 84 briefing book. The hope was that the ads would attract as many as 500 people for a weekend of parties, cruises, shopping, museum visits, fireworks and concerts.

The visit "should communicate a cool, hip and cutting-edge side of Pittsburgh," according to the briefing book.

But the primary objective was never to bring people to Pittsburgh, Lane said. Rather, the technology council and the PRA wanted to get Pittsburgh national exposure. Organizers hoped the campaign would prompt reporters from around the country to write about Pittsburgh's unorthodox attempt to siphon workers from other regions and, at the same time, tell people about Pittsburgh's lifestyle advantages.

The campaign was to be one of the first steps in changing Pittsburgh's national image. One of the most vexing aspects of Pittsburgh's transformation from steel town to diversified economy is the smoky, grimy image that lingers in other parts of the United States. In years past, the PRA has produced television and print ads addressing that problem, but the ads had only a local audience.

The new campaign targeted regions where technology workers are abundant and the cost of living is high. The proposed cost of Project 84 was $3.5 million. The technology council and PRA were willing to commit $600,000. Officials also hoped to get $1.25 million from the state, $1.25 million from local corporations and $400,000 from local foundations.

But now that the mystery component of the campaign is "shot," Lane said, "we are retooling the creative approach to it."

In the next three to four weeks, he said, the council and PRA will be meeting with potential contributors and gathering input. If the two agencies decide to pursue a campaign, the project probably will culminate in 2002.

While the need for marketing still exists, "we are not sure we are going to do Project 84," Lane said.

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