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RI Tourism Campaign in Chaos

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


New controversial logo

Video about the beauty of Rhode Island that includes images of Iceland, a website that highlights a restaurateur who moved his company to Boston, and an iconic chef who died in October of 2015 are all components of the much anticipated $4.5 million new tourism campaign launched this week by Governor Gina Raimondo’s administration.

Raimondo’s reinvention of the Commerce Corp was suppose to spark new energy and success for Rhode Island’s economy. She hired all out-of-state professionals to lead the organization and then hired an out-of-state branding and public relations firms to drive the reinvention of the tourism effort. This week’s launch has been riddled with execution errors, factual mistakes and has raised concerns about the leadership of the campaign. The Raimondo administration was defending the campaign as late as Tuesday night. "A $5 million campaign is not being pulled so not sure what you mean by that question," said Raimondo's press person Marie Aberger in an email to GoLocal.

Logo, Video and Website All Raising Questions

On Monday, the new state tourism logo was unveiled and it was met with harsh criticism by many Rhode Islanders via social media, but that adverse response may have been the highlight of the launch. By Tuesday afternoon a new video released by Commerce Corp was found to have a featured scene that was actually footage from Iceland. Clumsily, the video was deleted by Commerce from YouTube without any explanation  where it had been posted.


Former MA Tourism Official Betsy Wall

By the afternoon, RINPR’s Scott McKay unveiled that Chef Matt Jennings who had closed his Providence Restaurant in May of 2014 and moved to Boston and legendary Al Forno Chef George Germon, who died in October of 2015, were both featured on the new tourism website. 

Media and Rhode Islanders have found numerous other flaws and errors on the tourism website. Late Tuesday, GoLocal learned that the website was developed by Boston Ad Agency Connelly and Partners.

Connelly, worked with now-RI Tourism Chief and former Massachusetts Tourism marketing officer Betsy Wall when she served in Massachusetts. Connelly was fired by Governor Charlie Baker amongst some controversy

It is unclear how Connelly was working on the Rhode Island tourism website. In September of 2015, Commerce announced that Milton Glasers’ firm had been hired to do the branding and the global communications firm Havas had been hired do handle the public relations work. Connelly was not awarded any of the work in September nor was the firm a bidder on any of the RFPs.

In announcing the new campaign on Monday evening, RI's Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor said, “This campaign is an important part of our ongoing effort to revitalize Rhode Island’s economy.”

At the time of the award to out-of-state firms back in September of 2015, Dr. Edward Mazze, the former Dean of the URI Business School was blunt about getting away from the old way of doing business in his comments to GoLocalProv. 

"This campaign is very important and involves a major investment in dollars. The state needed to select  marketing communications agencies with experience in developing a brand and a marketing and public relations campaign that attracts tourists and  businesses, and at the same time give Rhode Islanders a positive feeling about their state," said Mazze. "Going with the best was the right use of public funds."

"As long as the local firms  were judged using the same criteria as the out-of-state firms, there is no issue. It is customary practice to submit proposals for review….it is the way business is done," continued Mazze. "For those local firms who are angry because they did not get the contract, they need to put on their big boy and big girl pants and understand that knowing a “Joe”  may not work anymore."

As GoLocal has learned, the selection of Connelly by Wall may be the Massachusetts version of the “I know a guy” being paid for by Rhode Island taxpayers.

Video Error Assigned to Local Firm

According to statements issued by Commerce, the video error was caused by the firm IndieWhip run by Brian Bruzzi. It was not disclosed who reviewed and approved the video prior to it being released. IndiWhip issued the following statement late Tuesday night:

On behalf of the Great State of Rhode Island, we sincerely apologize for the editing mistake brought to our attention in connection to the Commerce RI #WeAreRI campaign.

IndieWhip had been contracted to edit this presentation video and we made the decision to insert the content in question during the editing process. The bulk of the images we used in this video were provided by Rhode Island's regional tourism offices. The video is being updated, with a new version to go live soon ensuring all shots are located in the State. The footage in question is of a Rhode Island skateboarder, filmed by a Rhode Islander. Again, we sincerely apologize to the State of Rhode Island for this error. No costs will be incurred by the state to correct the video.

Scene from Iceland in RI tourism video

Criticism Builds

GOP Representative Doreen Costa from North Kingstown issued a statement criticizing the state of Rhode Island hiring a graphic designer to create a new logo for the Ocean State to the tune of $1 million, and hiring a firm to create an entire marketing campaign for a total of $5 million.

“It is unacceptable to me, and should be to the already overly-taxed citizens of Rhode Island, to be forced to pay for such a frivolous expense, when the state has a variety of creative resources available to it to do the same creative work,” said Costa.  “The Rhode Island School of Design is one of the premiere art colleges in the country, and right in our own backyard.  I am sure the state of Rhode Island could have worked with the school’s elite design team at a fraction of the cost, if not for free,” said Costa.  “Furthermore, the state could have held a contest among local artists, and selected a winner, whose work would be spotlighted on a national level, a win-win for both the state and the artist.” 


Related Slideshow: Tourism Logos For All 50 States (and D.C.)


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