Rivett of Excellence Award Winner
Downtown Faces Forward: A social responsibility campaign.
One year ago, the world abruptly shuttered its windows and doors. Communities locked down. Life was upended.
Walking into her downtown De Pere office, Bridget O’Connor stared out the window at the eerily empty street. Heartsick and full of uncertainty, her first question was, “What do we do now?” Her second quickly followed, “How can we help?”
The answer to both questions came through a pro bono campaign called Downtown Faces Forward. Enlisting the help of other industry professionals, volunteers, and local leaders, her team set out to raise awareness of small businesses’ plight during a time when many needed extra support. They created a social media campaign to celebrate downtown faces and their businesses—the people who weren’t willing to let a worldwide pandemic keep them from facing forward.
First profiling a handful of De Pere businesses in April of 2020, the project quickly escalated into summer and fall, ultimately showcasing more than 80 downtown businesses throughout the Fox Valley.
The campaign garnered this year’s Rivett of Excellence Award, which honors an entry based on creativity, community, and impact.
Q. What was the idea behind calling this campaign Downtown Faces Forward?
A. We wanted to stay true to the heart of what O’Connor Connective does best, which is telling stories. Every day, we help organizations tell their stories and shed light on the essence of what those companies are all about. That led us to want to tell the stories behind the faces of all those downtown storefronts. And share how those owners were confronting a once-in-a-lifetime crisis. Our team quickly recognized this was an opportunity to help our neighbors—our fellow De Pere business owners—by doing what we do best, by telling their stories.
Q. How did photography become part of the campaign’s storytelling?
A. I share a wall with a wonderful business, the artlessBastard. I called owner Alexis Arnold, a photographer, and she eagerly agreed to help us by taking some photos. We also have relationships up and down the valley with other creatives in our industry. One call after another, photographers jumped on board with support. And we enlisted a host of other organizations and industry professionals who wanted to help.
We simply wanted to show owners, sometimes with their families if they wished, standing both in front of and inside their businesses. But the project took off. It allowed photographers to showcase their talents. They captured the faces of these businesses in so many ways, perfectly illustrating how those owners were facing forward in the midst of their uncertainty, anxiety, and fear. But also how they were digging deep during this challenging time.
We started by capturing the stories and portraits of 20 downtown De Pere businesses. It soon expanded from there as word got out—to downtown Green Bay, Appleton, and Neenah.
Q. Why did you feel these stories would resonate?
A. We all drive by these storefronts. We might recognize the brand, but do we recognize the owner? Do we know the person behind that business? When you think of small downtown businesses, the mostly mom-and-pop shops, sometimes we know the names there. But do we really know them? Do we recognize that there is a family behind that business? Do we know their history? By humanizing the pandemic’s impact, we felt people who read the stories would respond positively and with support…and they certainly did.
Q. How so?
A. The social media campaign generated tremendous awareness, but we also saw this unique community forming. You’d see engagements in posts that included tagging friends and family with comments like, “We need to try this place!” or “Hey, let’s order takeout from this restaurant tonight.” You clearly saw downtown enthusiasts support not only their immediate downtown but also all the other downtown communities up and down the Fox River.
Q. Were there other unexpected or noteworthy outcomes?
A. Yes. Building a beautiful community of artistic contributors who together shed light on and celebrated over 80 businesses. It’s so important to recognize that this was a collaborative initiative. Although the O’Connor Connective team generated the idea and marshaled the campaign, it would never have been possible without the talents and generosity of so many others.
It’s important to recognize all who collaborated and supported this campaign, including Appleton Downtown, Inc.; Definitely De Pere; De Pere Art Center; De Pere Area Chamber of Commerce; Downtown Green Bay, Inc.; Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau; Future Neenah; Greater Green Bay Chamber; Greater Green Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau; Olde Main Street, Inc.; New North, Inc.; and photographers Alexis Arnold Photography, Mark Hawkins Photography, Image Studios, Alan John Photography and Kim Thiel of Crimson Creative Group.
And especially those business owners who allowed us to capture them in a very vulnerable state.
Q. You knew Jim Rivett and worked collaboratively with him on several projects over the years. What does winning this award mean to you and your team?
A. It’s incredibly meaningful and humbling. Especially when you know how much Jim gave to this community. I don’t think anyone could contribute a fraction of what he contributed to this city. He loved this community so much, and he wanted it to be so much more. He was very passionate about the arts and nonprofits. And he challenged all of us.
Jim would dive into addressing causes with no worry of budgets, doing it just because something was the right thing to do because it needed to get done. Downtown Faces Forward reflects that same energy. When I first began pulling the campaign together, I had those same unknowns—no budget and no idea how this would work. We simply pushed forward, acting with the conviction that this needed doing, and we’d figure it out as we go. That was very Jim-like.