RI chief marketing officer resigns after ‘Cooler & Warmer’ debacle

Raimondo says she will get some taxpayer money back after botched tourism rollout

Rhode Island's new slogan, left, has raised questions about chief marketing officer Betsy Wall, right.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – After days of embarrassments, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Friday evening that she has accepted the resignation of Rhode Island’s chief marketing officer and is getting rid of the state’s widely criticized new tourism slogan, “Cooler & Warmer.”

Raimondo also said taxpayers would get back more than $100,000 from two of the companies involved in the new tourism campaign’s launch, and said she plans to keep the new tourism logo while dropping the slogan that went with it.

cooler-and-warmer“We’ve gotten a huge amount of feedback in the past few days on the campaign, some positive but most of it is very critical,” Raimondo told reporters during a news conference at the State House, adding: “‘Cooler & Warmer’ is not a tagline that Rhode Islanders like, that has been clear.”

“It is clear to me one of the things I’ve learned from listening and engaging with people is there should have been more public participation in this effort from the get-go,” she said. She pledged to “learn from these mistakes” and take steps to improve the marketing campaign, and said she understood that criticism was coming because “Rhode Islanders have a deep and abiding passion for our state.”

The chief marketing officer, Betsy Wall, had been hired just last December but continued to live in Massachusetts, where she previously worked. Wall had come under heavy scrutiny after the tourism campaign’s botched rollout and a disastrous radio interview Thursday where she failed to recognize Rhode Island’s famed Gaspee Days.

The controversy began Monday night when the R.I. Commerce Corporation unveiled the new logo and slogan, created in part by two out-of-state marketing firms for roughly $550,000, as the symbol of a new $4.5-million statewide tourism campaign.

The branding was quickly mocked on social media, and the criticism grew exponentially when it was discovered a related promotional video included footage of Iceland and a redesigned tourism website contained outdated, inaccurate information. The errors made national headlines.

“It’s unacceptable how many mistakes were made in this rollout,” Raimondo said Friday. “And we need to hold people accountable because Rhode Islanders deserve better, taxpayers deserve better.”

Eyewitness News has learned Wall was taking home a state salary of $135,000 per year. In an interview earlier this week, she spoke with Eyewitness News about the Icelandic error.

“That was a screw-up and it needs to be fixed,” she said.

The cabinet secretary who leads the Commerce Corporation, Stefan Pryror, was not on hand for the news conference.

Documents released Wednesday show the Commerce Corporation has already spent almost half of the new $4.5 million marketing budget for 2015-16, with $1 million of the money paid to its lead consultant, Havas PR North America, for “public relations and fees.” About $1.67 million of the budget has been allocated for expenses such as advertising buys.

Governor Raimondo announces she will drop the much-criticized new tourism slogan and get back some taxpayer money.
Governor Raimondo announces she will drop the much-criticized new tourism slogan and get back some taxpayer money.

Raimondo said IndieWhip, the company that edited the Iceland video, will refund the state’s entire $22,000 expenditure on it. The company had posted a video earlier in the day mocking the Iceland snafu.

Raimondo also said Havas will give back $100,000.

Seth Goldenberg – founder of the Jamestown-based design company Epic Decade, which is the third of three companies working on the marketing campaign – will serve as interim chief marketing officer in the wake of Wall’s departure, Raimondo said. State officials will release a “social-media kit” next week so Rhode Islanders can offer their own takes on the marketing campaign, she said.

Raimondo has requested another $5 million for the tourism and business marketing effort in her proposed budget for 2016-17, which lawmakers are currently reviewing. She and others have long argued Rhode Island needed to spend more money on a broad effort to market the state to travelers.

Kim Kalunian and Annie Shalvey contributed to this report.

Comments are closed.