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Let the Good PR Roll: How PR Saved the Spirit of Mobile Mardi Gras

Published on March 1, 2021, at 9:44 p.m. 
by Mattie Naman.

Born to Celebrate. In 2015, Mobile, Alabama, was rebranded with this slogan created by BCF. The slogan “symbolizes Mobile’s unique ‘melting pot of people, flavors, cultures and traditions’ translated into a unified voice ‘to lead all of life’s celebrations,'” said Al Hutchinson, then president and chief executive officer of Mobile Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Little did the creators of the slogan know that in 2021 it would represent so much more.

It is no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused distress to communities all over the world, and Mobile was no exception. Although it has affected tourism and the local economy negatively, the pandemic made its biggest hit to Mobile’s pride and joy, the Mardi Gras season.

Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash

The city’s festivities were forced to a halt in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mobile is known for being the city that began Mardi Gras in 1703, and the only other time the holiday season was put on hold was for major wars, according to the Mobile Mask.

The cancellations took a toll on local restaurants, artists, musicians and vendors that rely on the Mardi Gras season to stay afloat. However, the citizens of Mobile were not about to let these businesses fail.

Although Mobilians were limited with how they could celebrate, there were communication masterminds working behind the scenes to save Mardi Gras 2021. The communications director for the Mobile Downtown Alliance. Carol Hunter, spoke on how Mardi Gras is more than just the parades and balls; it is something “in our DNA.” “The group that created the ‘Born to Celebrate’ tagline really hit the nail on the head,” said Hunter.

Knowing that the infamous mystic organizations would no longer be parading the streets and hosting grand balls, Mobilians searched for the real spirit of Mardi Gras. They became creative and, with the help of some public relations professionals, determined to save their beloved holiday.

“The most creative thing I have seen is the grassroots effort that sprung up a few weeks ago, the Mobile Porch Parades,” Hunter noted.

The Mobile Porch Parade movement was started by a local graphic designer named Suzanne Sarver who used float pieces to decorate her porch for Mardi Gras and encouraged others to do the same.

Sarver reached out to her friend Stacy Wellborn, a local PR consultant, who fell in love with the idea and decided to create a website and social media page for the movement and to take care of all the public relations needs.

After a revamp of the PR efforts for the Mobile Porch Parade, residents all around Mobile began to join in on the fun.

Float builders and other Mardi Gras vendors rely on this season to survive, and Mobilians found new ways to support these local businesses. This movement encourages “participants to go to these vendors to rent float pieces to use for their porch parade decorations, which helps bring in some revenue,” said Hunter.

Wellborn got in contact with a local float designer, Craig Stevens, who creates the sculptural pieces for the organization’s floats. “He has now rented out over 400 pieces of float decorations to different people around the two-county region,” Wellborn explained. She also said that before this project the float designer was unsure of how he was going to be able to pay his people, and the Mobile Porch Parade movement has made it possible.

“Another float designer already has people calling him to design their porch decorations for next year,” said Wellborn.

Photo by Kogulanath Ayappan on Unsplash

Many Mobilians have caught onto the Mobile Porch Parade movement, with over “400 people registering on the website,” said Wellborn. The Mobile Porch Parade website has an interactive map of every registered porch, so people can visit by walking, biking or driving by the decorated homes.

Mardi Gras has always been a creative event that includes artists, performers and vendors to put on events such as balls, tableaus and parades. What is unique about this year is that “the average citizen has been a bit more involved in the creative side of Mardi Gras than in the past, which has been a nice surprise,” Hunter said.

This movement has allowed people to still celebrate while also following COVID-19 protocol.

“It has caught everybody by surprise, the intensity with which people wanted to participate and the enthusiasm Mobilians are expressing to get out and experience all of these displays,” said Hunter. This has been the year that the people have taken over Mardi Gras, which has been influenced by past public relations efforts such as the slogan “Born to Celebrate.”

Public relations practitioners have stepped in as crisis managers without even realizing it. “I do think this is a crisis, and as a city that was born to celebrate, we have never not had a party,” Wellborn noted.

Everyone in the city was desperate to still celebrate their holiday. Wellborn believes that the Porch Parades have helped keep people happy and have allowed everyone to participate without having to be a part of a specific mystic society.

Mayor Sandy Stimpson also tweeted that Mobile was “closing streets in the entertainment district of [downtown] Mobile for celebrations on Fat Tuesday.” This allowed Mobilians to still celebrate safely while supporting some of the local businesses downtown.

Wellborn mentioned that the city invited organizations to Mobile’s Mardi Gras Park to “display their emblem floats” for people to visit on Fat Tuesday. “I applaud the city for the precautions to keep people safe instead of completely shutting everything down like New Orleans [did],” said Wellborn.

Communication has been key to keeping the spirit of Mardi Gras alive. Thankfully, many creative people have come together to create new ways to celebrate, but these efforts would not be successful without the public relations skills to bring them to life.

The talents of people like Stacy Wellborn, Carol Hunter and many other communicators within the city are what saved Mardi Gras. They have shown that the party never stops and that Mobilians truly are “Born to Celebrate.”

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