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Cheesesteaks and Rocky gotta go: How to update Philly’s image

Cohere's Antoinette Johnson shares three things you can do to champion today's Philadelphia.

The Rocky statue. (Photo by Flickr user InSapphoWeTrust, used under a Creative Commons license)
This is a guest post by Antoinette Marie Johnson, founder of branding agency Cohere. A version of the piece first appeared on Medium.
Philadelphia is living in its past. We’re like the kid in college who got a bad reputation from a party mistake.

The things that made Philly popular from long ago — cheesesteaks, Rocky, cream cheese and booing Santa — are OLD news. They’re not all bad things, but they are outdated.

Many Philadelphians have been asking: How do we collectively change this narrative?

I’ve created a list of the top three things we can do to influence how the world sees Philadelphia.

1. Be Travel-Ready

The last time you were on vacation you probably received the question “Where are you from?” Whenever we respond with Philly, we inevitably get the response: “Where do you get the best cheesesteak?” In fact, apparently out of the millions of visitors to local sightseeing blog Uwishunu, the most popular page is the site’s cheesesteak list. How can we break the vicious cycle if that’s what everyone wants to know?

My strategy has been to immediately explain my enthusiasm for Philly’s NEW food scene, get their email address and shoot them over a list of the best restaurants to see for themselves. I have it saved in my notes file and treat it as an invitation to come see our city. A decent amount of people have taken me up on this offer and it becomes a great way to build a global social network.

2. Affirm the Positive

If you have any ties to Philadelphia, I invite you to be a cheerleader online. Share the good things to keep the cycle of positivity going. By helping people who have a good story to tell, you’re sending more energy in that direction and in turn improving Philadelphia. Furthermore if you don’t like something, such as our public school system, take action by spreading the news about causes that are helping to change that (like Bob Moul’s mission).

Personally I’ve declared my social accounts as channels for consistently posting Philly’s best-kept secrets. I joke that I’m trying out for the cheerleading squad. Now, don’t go putting your head in the sand and be in denial about stories we’re not proud of. Just ask yourself: How can I affirm the positive news to share about Philly? Be unafraid to share our greatness.

Screenshots of one tweet from Bob Moul and one tweet from Antoinette Johnson.

Cheerleaders in action.

3. Lift Up Your Neighbor

One major value we all share in Philadelphia is neighborly love. Even when we are having a bad day and don’t show it, we’re still good people. And in the instance of your coworker, neighborhood business or actual neighbor, ask yourself this question: Have I done anything nice for them lately?

People remain the most powerful ambassadors for what a place is like. Whenever a story is shared from our ‘hood, it frames part of our narrative.


Changing what Philadelphia is known for starts from within. Join our collective effort to get out of this crisis of confidence once and for all! If you have tips on how to improve Philadelphia’s narrative, please tweet with me at @antweetnette on Twitter.


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