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A group of self-proclaimed Buffalo braggarts gathered in a downtown hotel Wednesday where they munched on turkey sandwiches and plotted strategies for promoting Western New York "drop by drop by drop."

Organizers of the "Brag About Buffalo" campaign met with about 60 people to outline the grass-roots effort to try to capture free publicity for the region's tourism attractions, festivals, architecture and other attributes.

The goal is to motivate dozens -- perhaps even hundreds -- of volunteers to research the editorial needs of national magazines, specialty publications and newspapers across the country.

Future steps will include generating lists of ideas for positive stories about Buffalo, finding freelance writers and others to pen the articles and tapping contacts within the publishing industry to help steer the finished products through appropriate channels.

Letters to the editor, viewpoints columns, even strategically placed mentions in publications' event listings are other tools that will be used.

Elaine S. Friedhaber, a Buffalo resident, conceived the concept many years ago and successfully pitched it to a group called Working for Downtown this spring. She said the promotional strategy will "complement" a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign launched this month by Buffalo Niagara Enterprise to promote the region.

Unlike this business-led marketing campaign which has received $27 million in pledges over five years, Brag About Buffalo will operate on a shoestring budget. Working For Downtown has approved a $1,100 budget and the campaign may seek some grants. Friedhaber noted that most of the effort will be funded through "donations of postage stamps" and sweat equity from about 50 volunteers who have already stepped forward.

"Brag About Buffalo is about using publicity rather than advertising to spread the positive word about Buffalo," Friedhaber said. "It's not a huge media campaign, but rather a quiet, understated, continuous and believable way to let the world know what we already know -- that Western New York is a great place to live, work and play."

Organizers said the campaign's grass-roots orientation and the fact that it won't be sinking money into advertising also differentiates it from previous image-boosting efforts like the "We're Talking Proud" crusade in the early 1980s.

Wednesday's pitch during The Buffalo Forum, a monthly luncheon, produced dozens of volunteers. Alison Badger was the first person to turn in a card signaling her interest in serving on a committee. Her involvement is unusual in one respect -- Badger has only lived here for about three months. She moved here from New Hampshire following her marriage to a Western New York resident.

"I wasn't expecting anything like this. Buffalo is wonderful. What a diversity of attractions and events. I'm absolutely astonished," said Badger.

The fiction writer is hoping her freelance skills might be helpful to the effort.

Some participants encouraged campaign organizers to focus on publicizing lesser-known regional events and attractions. For example, Francesca Mesiah said the role that Buffalo played in the Underground Railroad -- and the many historic sites that still exist along the trail -- could be parlayed into national publicity.

Sandy White, a former television reporter who moved to California -- then back to Buffalo -- said she thinks the campaign could go a long way toward enhancing the region's national image.

"We have so much to show to the rest of the world, including our parks, our history and our architecture," said White who was recently hired by the city in its Strategic Planning Office.

Jeanne Ptak, the area manager for Dunhill Staffing Systems, spent a decade in New York City and Boston before returning home. She thinks the Brag About Buffalo campaign is being launched at a time when perceptions are slowly starting to change.

"A lot of my friends who have moved out of town are starting to realize how great Buffalo really is," said Ptak. "It's something that a lot of Buffalonians have to learn."

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