Editor’s note: The following is part of Startland News’ ongoing coverage of the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Kansas City’s entrepreneur community, as well as how innovation is helping to drive a new normal in the ecosystem. Click here to follow related stories as they develop.
It’s a sign that transcends the times, said Chase McAnulty, noting the iconic KC Heart design popularized in recent years by Charlie Hustle plays a unique role in Kansas City’s today — not just its history.
When KCMO Mayor Quinton Lucas — flanked Sunday by regional leaders at Union Station — announced a metro-wide “Stay At Home” order in response to the growing Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the familiar “KC” logo stood in stark contrast on a somber podium.
It signaled regional unity in the face of a Kansas City-wide challenge, McAnulty said, which was the primary mission behind extending the license for the KC Heart to limited public use in late 2019 — an effort led by the Kansas City Area Development Council.
Click here to see how Kansas City is embracing the #StayHomeKC campaign.
“I think we’ve always known the legs that it could have and the versatility of it is being seen through good times and bad,” he said. “It represents KC as one. And in a time like this, we are all one community with a common goal to move on with our lives and end the spread of this virus.”
Click here to read more on the KCMO Stay At Home order.
“We knew it could mean more and be used for the good and prosperity of our communities, but that was a task bigger than us, it needed some wings to fly and with the support of our local governments and development council its starting to flourish and do what it was capable of doing,” McAnulty continued, describing the impact of the logo, which dates back to Kansas City’s early railroads, as well as the Monarchs Negro Leagues baseball team. “I believe those capabilities are to help a lot of people.”
Click here to read more about the November 2019 launch of the #KCHeartland campaign and the rollout of the KC heart as the regional symbol for Kansas City.
“Our hearts go out to cities across the globe as communities everywhere brace for the impact of COVID-19. Here in KC, we’re doing our part to #FlattenTheCurve,” read a post Tuesday from the official KC Heartland Instagram page, which is managed by the KCADC.
Social distancing followed Super Bowl social success
Months before COVID-19 was making headlines, the only thing on Kansas Citians’ minds was their hometown Chiefs securing a spot at the Super Bowl. The KCADC knew its KC Heartland campaign — starring the storied KC Heart — was primed for unexpected momentum.
“I think it probably would have taken us another year,” Ashlie Hand, vice president of communication at the KCADC, said of what it might have taken to establish the regional campaign for Kansas City if the Chiefs hadn’t boosted its national profile.
“It just supercharged it,” added Tim Cowden, KCADC president.
While the organization could have warmed its way into a VIP suite in Miami and posted plenty of photos with famous Kansas City fans like Paul Rudd, the KCADC felt the moment deserved a more impactful approach, Cowden added.
“When this hit on AFC Championship Sunday, we were like, ‘OK, we’ve got two weeks, how can we really accelerate all of this?” he continued, adding that within 24 hours of the team’s Jan. 19 win, the KCADC team had identified an intentional path forward.
“BJ Kissel had sent out a tweet right after the AFC championship win, asking, ‘Where are all the best Chiefs bars across the country,’” explained Hand, noting Kissel’s ask sparked an idea that ultimately mobilized the mission of KC Heartland in bars and gathering places in key U.S. cities like Chicago and New York.
Additionally, more than 40 oversized KC hearts were given to businesses and KCADC partners who spent Super Bowl weekend on the ground in Kansas City and garnered attention on social media.
“We reached just under 2 million social media impressions and were able to increase visitors to the KC.org website, which was one of our primary goals,” Hand revealed, noting KC Heartland also gained more than 800 social media followers throughout the mobilized effort — which also included a heavy presence at celebrations in Kansas City’s Power and Light district.
“We felt like if we could capture the excitement of the Super Bowl, then [followers] are in [our] channel and we can start feeding them information about other things to cheer for in Kansas City.”
The effort brought in some 600 posts via use of the KC Heartland hashtag, greatly increased Twitter engagement, and activated more than 70 new KC Heartland Ambassadors — tasked with spreading the word about Kansas City and its emerging culture, around the country.
“A lot of that was organic, which was really cool to see,” noted Lexi Ryan, public relations and digital communications specialist.
Click here for more Super Bowl statistics gathered in the Power & Light district.
KC Heart keeps beating
Building on such hype and carrying it through the remainder of 2020 is now the primary goal of the KC Heartland campaign, Hand said, revealing plans to engage with Royals fans during the pending baseball season — which will be delayed per social distancing guidelines as the nation works to contain COVID-19 in the coming months.
The Kansas City response to the KC Heartland campaign throughout the Super Bowl has affirmed its overall meaning for the KCADC, Cowden said.
“People love it and I think what people love about it is it’s so open. It’s a platform. It’s not just a brand, it’s just not the icon of the heart. All that has terrific meaning, but it’s a platform people can take in any direction they want,” he said of unique benefits in the campaign’s design that are positioned to empower Kansas Citians to take ownership of their city and ultimately, work to attract new and returning members to the community.
“We wanted to get entrepreneurial and, for a civic organization, this is really entrepreneurial,” he said.
“When entrepreneurs are building a company, they’re taking advantage of all the resources they can — mentors, partners and that’s what we did with this and it’s what we do all the time.”
A close partner in the campaign, Charlie Hustle couldn’t be happier with progress made by the KCADC and its entrepreneurial approach to city wide connectivity, the apparel company said.
“They are the team that can rally this city and it’s only a matter of time before it really starts to connect into our inner community,” said McAnulty, who was honored in February by KCADC with the TeamKC MVP Award for Charlie Hustle’s “work to collaborate, innovate and make a worldwide impact.”
Click here to read about Charlie Hustle’s recognition.
“[The KCADC is] moving with a fierce focus on the prize and it’s an honor to work alongside them as we share a common bond to elevate Kansas City and all that it means to live in the Heartland.” McAnulty said.
Such connectedness could soon manifest in a permanent KC Heart display at the Kansas City International Airport, Hand revealed, noting talks with the airport — first mentioned in November 2019 — are progressing nicely.
“Those conversations are happening specifically around the parking garage structure [at the airport] I think that that structure in and of itself is going to be extremely visible to anybody that’s driving into the new terminal, so there’s definitely some positive things that are happening there,” she said.
The KCADC’s corporate partners are also beginning to show their support for the campaign, including such companies as Hallmark and Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Made in KC is also looking to roll out an initiative that would include an insert on Kansas City and the KC Heartland campaign in all out-of-state orders, Hand said.
“I imagine that they get quite a bit of web traffic from out of market … which could be huge for us,” she added.