RI official: No plans to drop ‘Cooler & Warmer’

Documents show $2M of new $4.5M tourism campaign budget has already been spent

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – “Cooler & Warmer” is here to stay as Rhode Island’s new tourism slogan.

That was the message Wednesday from Betsy Wall, the R.I. Commerce Corporation’s recently hired chief marketing officer, as she responded to the avalanche of criticism that’s followed the botched rollout of the new $4.5-million statewide tourism campaign.

“We’ll be using it, but I don’t think it will be a big part of how people experience this campaign,” Wall told Eyewitness News. “I think what people will see is that we’ll be pushing out information about Rhode Island in an important way.”

Wall said the response to the slogan was “always going to be subjective – some people are going to like it and some people aren’t.”

“If it was the sum total of the campaign, that would be critically, critically important,” she said. “But it’s not the sum total of the campaign. It’s actually a very small part of the campaign. The campaign as a whole is the ongoing, steady stream of compelling information about Rhode Island pushed out across numerous platforms every day.”

The new slogan was introduced Monday night during a Commerce Corporation board discussion of the new tourism campaign being launched this year. The initial social-media backlash intensified when it was discovered that an accompanying promotional video included footage of Iceland and that the redesigned VisitRhodeIsland.com website featured inaccurate statistics and out-of-state stock photos.

The three firms hired to do the tourism campaign – Havas PR North America, Milton Glaser and Epic Decade – have spent slightly more than $2 million of the $4.5 million already, with $1 million of that billed by Havas for “public relations and fees,” according to a breakdown released by the state. That includes $550,000 to come up with “Cooler & Warmer.”

The Rhode Island Commerce Corporation's marketing budget as of March 30, 2016. (source: Commerce Corp.)
The Rhode Island Commerce Corporation’s marketing budget as of March 30, 2016. (source: Commerce Corp.)

On the website issues, Wall said all the state launched this week as part of the tourism campaign was a revamped look for the existing site, and that the inaccurate information has been there for a long time.

“The errors that were noted this week – they were there last week, they were there the week before, they were there last year,” she said. “This is not a new website. This is not a new database. It is a constantly refreshed database.”

Wall said staff members are now going through the site to fix errors that have been found by them or members of the public.

“This tourism marketing of Rhode Island has been woefully underfunded for many years,” she added.

As for the video with the Iceland footage, Wall said the Providence firm Indiewhip had been paid $22,000 to create the video, working as a subcontractor to Havas. Indiewhip was one of two companies that bid to make the video and was the cheaper option, she said. Commerce approved the hire.

Gov. Gina Raimondo told reporters IndieWhip had “owned up to the mistake, fixed it right away for free, and I’m holding them accountable.” She joked: “When people go search for Iceland they’re seeing Rhode Island, so maybe some people will come visit us, too.”

More seriously, Raimondo argued Rhode Islanders should watch to see whether tourism picks up over the next six to 12 months. “The important thing is, will this bear results?” she said.

Wall said the video had been finished last Friday and screened by Commerce Corporation officials in advance of Monday’s meeting.

“A few people did question that particular shot, and we were assured – incorrectly, as it turned out,” that it was Rhode Island, she said. “But, you know, it was human error, and c’est la vie. … We should have caught it. We didn’t.”

Jennifer Howard, one of Wall’s deputies, recalled the same thing. “It did spark questions, but we were told the person in the video and the person who shot the video were Rhode Islanders,” she told Eyewitness News.

Urður Gunnarsdóttir, a spokesperson for Iceland’s ministry of foreign affairs, confirmed that the brief seconds of footage shown in the Rhode Island video “are indeed of music hall Harpa in Reykjavik.”

A new, fixed version of the promotional video will be posted “soon,” Wall said.

Wall, who previously spent eight years as executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism, said she hoped Rhode Islanders would keep open minds about the tourism campaign as it continues to move ahead.

“I wouldn’t presume to tell people how they should respond to it – people are absolutely within their rights to make of it what they will and to have their own opinions and to state those opinions as emphatically as they wish,” she said. “I think they’ll see in the long run that this campaign is a smart, integrated campaign.”

“People here are passionate,” she added. “I think that there’s a lot of pride in the state, there’s a lot of sense that is a unique place, a special place, and people want to make sure their story is authentically told and accurately told.”

A number of lawmakers have criticized the tourism campaign since its launch. Rep. Doreen Costa, R-North Kingstown, said she would file a public-records request with Raimondo’s office seeking documents related to the tourism campaign.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes The Saturday Morning Post. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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