Kevin Riordan: 'Something Nice' campaign aims for positivity in Camden

The "Say Something Nice About Camden" billboard is the brainchild of former resident and communications executive Jennifer Barton.
The "Say Something Nice About Camden" billboard is the brainchild of former resident and communications executive Jennifer Barton. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 05, 2012

Say something nice about Camden.

A billboard bearing that simple, yet startling request went up Monday on the Admiral Wilson Boulevard at Federal Street.

"Saying something nice about the city is a small, positive action that can turn into something powerful," says Jennifer Barton, a Manhattan communications executive who created and funded the campaign with a little help from her friends.

That some are hard-pressed to say anything positive about what is still South Jersey's biggest city is beside the point. Or perhaps it is the point.

"I'd like to raise the visibility of the really good things that are happening there," says Barton, who lived and worked in Camden for much of the 1990s.

She hopes residents and others "will share positive experiences" on a website, saysomethingniceaboutcamden.org, a Facebook page of the same name, and a Twitter handle, @ssnac.

"My billboard is a personal, artistic message," Barton says. "It's thought-provoking . . . and also a call to action."

There's surely a need: The number of homicides in Camden stood at 62 on Monday morning. The death toll has inspired a stark response by another grassroots group, which has placed a cross in a downtown park for each victim.

The two campaigns could be complementary, say Barton and Angel Osorio of the group Camden: Stop the Trauma, Violence and Murder, whose display has been duplicated at a Moorestown church.

"It's not that I advocate negative messages," Osorio says. "But before you can really move forward with anything, you have to recognize what your challenges are and face them head on."

Many people and organizations are trying to turn the city around, says Barton, a mother of two who is vice president of media relations for L-3 Communications, which makes defense-related systems.

Barton, 45, fell in love with Camden when she began working there - for the Cooper's Ferry Development Association and other organizations - in the 1990s. She found its toughness, resiliency and, yes, beauty, particularly along the Delaware and Cooper Rivers, inspiring.

"I saw the same things Walt Whitman saw," Barton says. "The 'city invincible.' "

Billboards, slogans and symbols have been essential to campaigns by the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp., notes the group's president, Meryl Levitz.

She called the "Say Something Nice" campaign a "warm, wonderful, and gutsy" effort.

"It always strikes me how many people have pleasant memories of Camden," Levitz says. "There is a vision of what it could be again, and a lot of effort has been going into that."

Her corporation's campaigns ("Philly's better when you sleep over") are widely admired. "But when we started," she recalls, "people said it would never work."

Anyone who doubts the power of a single billboard should talk to Elliott Curson.

In 1972, to publicize an event for business leaders and civic boosters, the veteran Philly adman devised a slogan that was displayed on the Schuylkill Expressway.

It read: Philadelphia isn't as bad as Philadelphians say it is.

"A one-month billboard, and it was quoted all over the world," Curson says.

He likes Barton's approach.

"It's unexpected, and that's what makes you stop and think about it," Curson says. "It provokes a response.

"It's a great idea. Sometimes a thing starts, and it's fun, and all of a sudden it has legs and takes off. You never know."

Say something nice about Camden.

Why not?


Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845 or kriordan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the Metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at www.phillynews.com/blinq.

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