No Rhode Islander has more reason to be outraged at the state’s “cooler, warmer” tourism campaign than Myrna George and Bob Billington. As the executive directors of the South County and Blackstone Valley tourism councils respectively, the now infamously-failed marketing campaign was effectively paid for out of their budgets.
For the South County Tourism Council’s $100,000 investment in the new statewide tourism marketing campaign, George said she didn’t see one scene of South County in the promotional video.
“Not that I could identify on my iPhone,” she said. “They took it down too quick!”
The Blackstone Valley Tourism Council put $40,000 toward the campaign. For both agencies, it represents about 10 percent of their overall budgets – or the amount agreed to last legislative session when Governor Gina Raimondo decided to tackle tourist marketing centrally at the state level.
Neither are thrilled with how the new relationship has worked to date.
“We didn’t have much of a stake in it,” said Billington of the new logo and marketing campaign. “Trickle down doesn’t work,” said George.
Both said the regional council directors were given 51 requests for proposals to tackle the entire marketing campaign for the state.
“They were book thick,” George said. “They did a boatload of work on them.” Both she and Billington said they were each tasked with scoring individual aspects of each proposal – and thought one proposal would be chosen at the end of the process.
“It didn’t happen that way,” she said. “They fractured it into little pieces. Glaser got the logo, Havas got branding…”
Billington added, “We weren’t really allowed to be part of the process. They gave us a rubric and asked for our ten favorites. We thought the next step was going to be get together as a group and sit down with the finalists.”
George suspects this process has something to do with the resulting product. “You can’t have diverse groups in silos,” she said. “You can’t just hire a pr firm, you need to understand the DNA of our region.”
Billington, who was an ardent opponent of statewide tourism marketing, said he’s ready to move on. “They told us it would only make things better but it worked out differently. It’s painful to watch because it could have been done so much better. I’ve reconciled and am ready to move on. We can’t expect a logo, or a campaign to fix things. It’s got to be the rank and file, it’s got to be a million people strong.”