Tourism groups: We weren’t asked to weigh in on new campaign

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — When Rhode Island’s new tourism campaign was rolled out last week it was supposed to begin promoting the state as a great place to visit, but several issues caused it to instead be met with mockery and criticism.

When the state’s Commerce Corporation was charged with putting together the campaign, officials said they’d gather opinions from regional tourism groups. But those groups are now saying that never happened.

The debacle began last Monday when the R.I. Commerce Corporation unveiled a 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 tourism campaign.

The branding “Cooler & Warmer” 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it was discovered a related promotional video included footage of Iceland and a redesigned tourism website contained outdated, inaccurate information.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.

In January, three months before the failed launch, Commerce Corporation Chief of Staff Wade Gibson told lawmakers his agency was working with regional tourism groups to prepare the new campaign.

“We are soliciting their input before the launch,” Gibson said.cooler-and-warmer

Betsy Wall – at the time the state’s new chief marketing officer, who resigned just five days after the launch – also claimed in January they were seeking the bureaus’ input.

“That is by definition something that is absolutely collaborative because it would be ludicrous if it wasn’t,” she said. “It would be incomplete.”

Blackstone Valley Tourism Council head Bob Billington said Wednesday, however, that wasn’t the case at all.

“We didn’t have a chance to really comment or own it or review it,” Billington told Eyewitness News.

Martha Sheridan, head of the Providence Warwick Convention and Visitors Bureau, had a similar recollection.

“It was already finalized, so it wasn’t a situation where we were asked to weigh in on it,” she recalled. “It was more ‘here it is,’ and we thought ‘OK, here it is and we’ll move forward with this.'”

During that January hearing, Gibson confirmed that approximately 1,000 people were polled about the slogan, and he said the agency’s “very next step” would be to ask the regional directors their opinions. Billington said that never occurred.

“I think going forward it’s going to be all about working together, which is all we’ve wanted,” he added.

Eyewitness News reached out to the Commerce Corporation for comment but our calls were not returned.

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