Civic group launches $4M campaign to boost embattled San Francisco ahead of global trade summit

President Joe Biden and other heads of state, hundreds of foreign journalists and more than 1,000 business executives from around the globe are expected to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ summit

san francisco
A supermoon rises behind the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline as seen from Sausalito, Calif. on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022.JOSE CARLOS FAJARDO (AP)

A $4 million marketing campaign touting San Francisco’s resilience, innovation and moxie launches Thursday as the embattled city prepares to host a high-profile global economic summit next month that could boost its image or pile on to its woes.

Business leaders behind the privately funded “It All Starts Here” campaign say they plan to blanket the city with billboards and ads featuring what makes San Francisco great — think the iPhone and Pixar Animation Studios — as tens of thousands converge on the city for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ summit.

President Joe Biden and other heads of state, hundreds of foreign journalists and more than 1,000 business executives from around the globe are expected to attend the summit Nov. 11 to 17. “Birthplace of the waterbed. And the summer of love,” reads one ad. “The martini. The mai tai. And the Uber ride back home,” reads another. The campaign logo echoes the famous crisscross Haight and Ashbury street signs.

There’s also a spirited two-minute video set to the song “California Dreamin’.” The video opens with fog and mountains, Pacific Ocean waves crashing into majestic cliffs and the Golden Gate Bridge before mixing in historic images of streetcars, beatniks, retailer Gap, Apple and Google. San Francisco is sandwiched between Silicon Valley and Northern California wine country.

The summit comes at a critical time for San Francisco’s bruised image. While there are signs of recovery — an IKEA opened downtown — the city has been hit hard by news of major retailers leaving as street conditions deteriorated over public drug use, homelessness and theft.

“Unfortunately, when you hear about San Francisco, you hear about a lot of negative things,” said Priya David Clemens, spokesperson for the host committee. “And APEC is an opportunity for people to come from all around the Pacific Rim, see this city, and go back and tell their friends and family, ‘Hey, San Francisco’s a great place to do business’ and to come back and visit for pleasure.”

Civic and business leaders, government officials and the tourism and conference industry are anxious to counter the narrative that San Francisco is dying or dead as it might become a self-fulfilling prophecy in today’s era of snap judgments spread through a viral social media ecosystem built in the city’s backyard.

Conditions are not as dire as headlines make out, said Larry Baer, board co-chair of Advance SF, the business group overseeing the campaign. Baer, who is also president and CEO of the San Francisco Giants, said the ads are also aimed at reminding residents of the city’s accomplishments.

“It’s urging a change in the narrative,” said Baer, a San Francisco native. The city is “like other big cities, with modern day challenges, but also with really a unique sparkle to it.” “We’re not going to have as quick a change perhaps as we want, but I believe ... there’s improvement,” he said.

In September, San Francisco successfully hosted 40,000 attendees of an annual Salesforce conference. City native Marc Benioff, the software company’s CEO and chair, raved about how clean and safe streets were around the convention center.

The new ads take some liberties. Apple has its headquarters in Cupertino and Pixar’s is in Emeryville, neither of which are San Francisco. The martini may have been invented San Francisco, or in neighboring Martinez. The mai tai was created in 1944 at a Trader Vic’s restaurant in Oakland across the bay.

The modern waterbed, however, was created in San Francisco, by a design student at San Francisco State University.

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