Vendors’ pitches turned into offices for viral #BossNotBum campaign

By Laura Smith

Street paper vendors are their own bosses. That’s the point being made by a viral campaign launched by The Contributor in Nashville this week.

For the #BossNotBum campaign, a number of Contributor vendors could be seen around town on Tuesday sitting behind office desks instead of standing at their regular pitches.

Vendor Sharon H is a microbusiness owner. She sits by a desk in Nashville as part of the #bossnotbum campaign. Credit: The Contributor

Executive Director Brady Banks said the stunt is an in-your-face reminder that vendors are actually running and investing in their own businesses. They buy the paper for a portion of the cover price and sell it on, pocketing the profits. Vendors invested over $270,000 in The Contributor sales last year alone.

For vendors like Clint McDowell, the streets are their offices.

“We’re not panhandlers. We are small business owners and I file taxes just like everyone else. We’re our own bosses,” said Clint (featured below). He took part in the campaign at his pitch outside Starbucks in Nashville’s Green Hills neighbourhood.

Clint was homeless when he first joined The Contributor. Now in housing and known as the ‘Mayor of Green Hills’ (because he knows literally everyone in the neighbourhood, says Brady), he’s one of the street paper’s biggest success stories.

“The vendors loved it and I think Clint really liked sitting down on a chair that was comfortable,” added Brady.

“It was a lot of fun because we passed out business cards to passers-by, saying we just want to make sure you have my boss’s card and introduced our boss – Clint. People would smile and go talk to him.

“Clint has had a number of significant health problems but has been able to overcome those and is now in housing. He’s a great vendor and great example of what we hope to help other vendors achieve.”

The Contributor partnered with ‘experiential marketing firm’ Go West Creative for the unique awareness-building campaign.

“We’re not panhandlers. We are small business owners. We’re our own bosses.”

After photos of vendors sitting at desks complete with computers, lamps and paperwork were shared online, the #BossNotBum campaign quickly went viral. The hashtag trended on Twitter in Nashville and attracted both media and public attention.

“The customers loved it. They thought it was due time for us to communicate who our vendors are, what their role is and explain what our organisation does,” added Brady.

“I loved it personally because it helped me understand my role better. I’m here to serve Clint’s business and keep him going.

“That was a nice change in perspective and I think a lot of people very much enjoyed understanding it that way and seeing Clint in the light of his business and how he’s grown it over time.”

The Nashville street paper has a strong history of successful campaigns focused on its vendors. Just last year, the team embarked on an intense political lobbying campaign that effectively saved The Contributor.

When a proposed city ordinance threatened to stop vendors selling to people in cars on Nashville’s medians (their main source of sales), the paper’s staff and vendors jumped into action. In three weeks they lobbied city officials and raised public awareness through letters, public meetings and a vendor-focused video, until the ordinance was finally withdrawn.

#BossNotBum is another step to ingraining that vendors are micro-business owners who have invested their own money in their business and their futures, and The Contributor’s role in supporting that effort.

The Contributor empowers vendors like Sharon to become micro business owners. Credit: Erika Chambers

For Brady, communicating the fact that selling a street paper is an actual job was essential to the success of an intense political lobbying campaign that effectively saved the paper last year.

“Our legacy is that we try to make it very clear that we are creating economic opportunity with dignity so we can transform lives that were otherwise abandoned,” said Brady.

“We continually refer to our vendors as ‘micro entrepreneurs’ so people understand what they do is an important job, not glorified panhandling. Once people understand that they get behind it.”