Documents reveal how money was spent in tourism campaign

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Documents related to the “Cooler & Warmer” debacle have revealed some of the things taxpayer money was spent on in the tourism campaign – including $700 for beauty services that was later reimbursed.

The records also showed that one of the public relations firms involved has reimbursed an additional $90,000 to the state for mistakes that were made.

After several public records requests, Eyewitness News was able to obtain hundreds of documents related to the case now being investigated by a special legislative commission.

Back in September, the Commerce Corporation agreed to pay $4.5 million to three firms to develop a brand, promote it, and plan events.

The Commerce Corporation unveiled the “Cooler & Warmer” logo in late March and it was met with widespread criticism. 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it was discovered a related promotional video included footage of Iceland and a redesigned tourism website contained outdated, inaccurate information.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.

By the end of the week, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced the slogan would be scrapped and that she had accepted the resignation of Chief Marketing Officer Betsy Wall.

According to the documents, Wall will receive $67,500 severance over the next six months while out of a job.

Photos: RI tourism logos that didn’t make the cut »
Photos: RI tourism logos that didn’t make the cut »

Eyewitness News dug through the documents to find out what taxpayer money was spent on in regards to the tourism campaign. Included in the invoices were travel, lodging, and food expenses, including lunch at Bistro 22 in Cranston for $305, a reload for $25 on a Starbucks card, and even deodorant and toothpaste from Walgreen’s.

Also in the documents was a $700 invoice from a blowout and beauty parlor with Gov. Raimondo’s name attached to it.

In January, an infomercial advertising Rhode Island that went on to air on CNN’s Airport Network was shot. The day of the shoot, the governor got her hair styled and makeup done at the statehouse, which an invoice revealed had a price tag of $700.

The CEO of Havas – a PR firm who received $3.5 million for their contributions to the campaign – said the firm realized early on that hair and makeup should not be charged to taxpayers and sent the stylist home.

During a quarterly audit, the firm reimbursed the state for the $700 along with two other smaller charges, according to the documents. Since then, Havas has voluntarily reimbursed the state a total of $340,000.

The Commerce Corporation has admitted there were mistakes and mismanagement in the campaign and counts that as one of them.

Eyewitness News also uncovered a number of emails between the corporation and the company that produced the tourism video, which was found to have featured a shot of Iceland when it was released in March.

At 1:11 a.m. the morning of the release, IndieWhip wrote in an email that “everyone involved on our end is over the moon on how the spot came out, and they all did a killer job.”

The Special Legislative Commission Studying Tourism Efforts in Rhode Island is currently investigating everything that led up to the botched rollout.

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