No new slogan will replace ‘Cooler & Warmer’

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 PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island officials do not plan to choose a new tourism slogan to replace the widely mocked and quickly dropped “Cooler & Warmer,” Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor said Wednesday.

“I think we’re in a good place if we put that behind us,” Pryor told reporters, alluding to what he described as the “firestorm” of controversy that followed the botched rollout of the tourism campaign earlier this month. He added: “The tagline is Rhode Island.”

Pryor made the comments on the same day the House Finance Committee held a hearing on the R.I. Commerce Corporation’s proposed 2016-17 budget, which includes an additional $5 million for the new marketing campaign on top of the $5 million allotted in the current budget.

Despite the controversy that accompanied the campaign rollout, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said he supports continuing the funding in the next budget. Lawmakers on the committee also seemed generally in favor of the stepped-up marketing effort, although they expressed concern about the initial problems.

“I’m prepared to commit the $5 million because I think it best serves our state,” Mattiello told Eyewitness News. Asked about whether he still has confidence in Pryor’s team, the speaker said: “I’m confident that they’re going to get it right. You’ve got talented people in the administration – mistakes were made, but that does not mean that the folks are not talented.”

Pryor said “Cooler & Warmer” and its accompanying sail-themed logo, which is being retained, were chosen by Commerce Corporation officials in consultation with the companies hired to work on the campaign, Havas PR North America, Milton Glaser and Epic Decade. He said the tagline scored well in three rounds of advance testing.

Pryor also provided slides showing some of the other options that were considered in December:

Other slogans that were considered included “Far From Small,” “Small is Good,” “The Island Effect,” “A Lively Experience,” “Make Waves” and “Rhode Island, Yes,” according to a different slide.

“I wasn’t crazy about it myself to begin with, and it’s grown on me,” Pryor said of the “Cooler & Warmer” slogan. “I think there’s a degree to which others are experiencing that, as well.” He said he was “delighted” to see Rhode Islanders putting their own spins on the logo and the slogan, and said Epic Decade is working on a public-engagement process to harness residents’ ideas.

Asked whether the lack of a slogan would harm Rhode Island’s effort to launch the tourism campaign, Pryor said: “I don’t think it does.” The slogan and the logo “were of modest importance” compared with other aspects of the effort, such as bringing influential journalists to the state to drum up interest.

Still, Pryor described the inclusion of footage from Iceland in a promotional video and the various errors discovered on the new tourism website as “simply unacceptable” and said he’s working to address how that happened.

“I’ve taken responsibility for those. I continue to take responsibility for those,” he said. “There need to be measures in place that prevent mistakes like that.”

He also said: “I think there may be a misconception … that $5 million was spent on a logo and a tagline. Of course not. That was never the plan.”

Excluding the cost of Commerce staff members, Pryor said $2.5 million of the tourism campaign’s annual budget has been spent so far but slightly more than $2 million remains available to use. That money will be spent largely on garnering what’s called “earned media” – free coverage from news and lifestyle publications. He said the aim is to spur interest in vacationing in Rhode Island this coming summer.

“Many, perhaps even most ‘near-cationers’ have not yet decided where they’re going for their long weekends or even longer stays during the summer,” he said. “We can impact those decisions. So you see how much is underway leading up to that effort – we intend to undertake it.”

The phrase “near-cationers” refers to people from nearby areas who could vacation in Rhode Island. More than half of those who visit Rhode Island come from elsewhere in the Northeast, according to research conducted for the tourism campaign.

Pryor emphasized the importance of tourism to the local economy, and noted that Rhode Island previously spent only about $500,000 a year on statewide tourism marketing, compared with almost $16 million in Massachusetts, $13 million in Connecticut, $6.9 million in New Hampshire and nearly $70 million in Florida. He insisted the state needs to continue with the effort.

Asked why Rhode Islanders should trust his agency with another $5 million for the tourism campaign after the errors made in recent weeks, Pryor said: “I think we need to earn back their trust, partly through results we’re already beginning to see.” As evidence, he cited advertisements that have been developed which are now appearing on airline flights and during the Charlie Rose TV program.

Under questioning by lawmakers, Pryor repeatedly acknowledged failures on the part of his agency, including the fact that the state’s regional tourism bureaus haven’t been “sufficiently involved.” But he pushed back at a suggestion by state Rep. Daniel Reilly, R-Portsmouth, that the tourism mess partly happened because the Commerce Corporation’s portfolio has grown too large to be managed effectively.

“This may be a relatively small portion of their budget, but it does reflect their decision-making throughout the rest of the programs they oversee,” Reilly told Eyewitness News.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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