BY DOUGLAS FEIDEN
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York is best known for formulating monetary policy, regulating depository institutions, redeeming billions in Treasury securities and serving as the banker of the U.S. government.
But it isn’t all macroeconomics or post-crisis supervisory stress testing at the Florentine-style palazzo at 33 Liberty Street downtown: The Fed, it turn outs, has been conducting a crash course in New York City 101.
The principal pupil is Sacramento native John C. Williams, a 55-year-old economist who started his new post as 11th president of the New York Fed on June 18 after seven years as president of the San Francisco Fed.
Williams had never worked on Wall Street. He’d never called the city home. So the Fed’s digital team decided to welcome him and advise him on mastering life in New York — by launching a playful new social media campaign, #DearJohninNYC.
“John has never lived in New York, he’s coming from San Francisco, and we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cute if we told him a little bit about New York City,’” said Christine Sommo, an officer in the digital-strategy unit.
Soon, a call went out seeking volunteers at the 3,000-employee central bank, and in no time, economists, statisticians, researchers, regulators, software engineers, information technologists and staffers in outreach, administration and communications had raised their hands.
“The campaign gave us the opportunity to humanize the institution,” Sommo said.
In a series of two dozen short video tweets, acted out by about 30 bankers and other staff around Manhattan, Williams is visually instructed in how to become a New Yorker.
One woman demonstrates the proper angle at which to flag down a passing cab above a caption reading, “The taxi hail is all about the lean.” A man displays the “pizza fold” as he consumes a slice, an art form that “might take practice, but is worth it.”
What’s up with the New York accent? “Fuhgetaboutit. No such thing.” That fabled span across the East River? “Fair market price or not, the Brooklyn Bridge is not for sale.”
Meanwhile, a fast-moving walker appears stymied on video as he tries to get by three slow-footed pedestrians on the sidewalk. Capturing the frustration of the true New Yorker, the caption declares, “Slow walkers and large groups keep to the right. (C’mon, people.)”
“We’ve got more than 8 million stories,” one post proclaimed. “We’re glad you’re now one of them. Welcome John!”
“Wow!” Williams tweeted back on the day he started at his new job.
“When my new colleagues told me about their #NYCtips, that’s when I knew that I could not refuse. Thank you for the warm welcome as I join you at the New York Fed — and as an official New Yorker,” he added.
Sommo wrote the text to accompany the videos, each of which repeats in a loop and lasts just two or three seconds. She says the final product reflects the personalities of the individual Fed employees.
“We wanted to make the videos playful, but with a little bit of that New York sensibility,” Sommo said. “We were hoping to highlight some of the unique aspects of New York City, and what makes it the place that it is, and it was very important to get the tone right.
“New York may be confusing to newcomers, it has this reputation as being hard to figure out, but it’s a lot more welcoming and friendly than many people may know,” she added.
Unfortunately for Williams, one tweet posted at #DearJohninNYC offered a bit of rather glum news:
“Sorry, we can’t get you @HamiltonMusical tickets” it said. “We hear even @Lin_Manuel can’t get them these days.”