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Embattled Marketing Director Resigns; Raimondo Vows Improved Tourism Campaign

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Responding to a week of criticism over the state's new tourism campaign, Governor Gina Raimondo announced Friday she has accepted the resignation of...

  Responding to a week of criticism over the state's new tourism campaign, Governor Gina Raimondo announced Friday she has accepted the resignation of the state's chief marketing officer, is recovering some of the spending on the campaign, and will involve Rhode Islanders in a revised effort to better market the state.

The governor said the marketing slogan that attracted widespread scorn, "Cooler and Warmer," is being dropped, although the state will continue to use an accompanying sail-type logo developed by designer Milton Glaser.

"It's unacceptable how many mistakes were made in this rollout, and we need to hold people accountable because Rhode Islanders deserve better," Raimondo said during a Statehouse news conference after the close of business Friday afternoon. "Taxpayers deserve better and too many mistakes were made."

The governor said her message is that the state will "learn from these mistakes, we're gonna fix them, and we're gonna work hard to get this right for Rhode Island. Because this is important. This campaign matters. It's gonna create jobs, and we're gonna work hard to get it right."

Raimondo said the state has recovered slightly more than $20,000 from Indie Whip, a Providence ad firm whose tourism promotion video included a brief snippet of footage shot in Iceland. The governor called the company's release of a satirical video making light of the ensuing controversy -- which attracted international attention -- "unfortunate."  She said the state is also getting back $100,000 from Havas, the PR firm hired by the state's economic agency to coordinate the tourism campaign.

Beyond the "Cooler and Warmer" slogan, and the foreign footage, a revised state tourism marking site was found to be riddled with errors. These gaffes sparked critical reactions by Rhode Islanders and received attention ranging from an A1 story in Thursday's Boston Globe to foreign media outlets. This all came after elements of the marketing effort were unveiled Monday night.

Betsy Wall, a former Massachusetts official with strong Democratic ties, was hired by the state Commerce Corporation last December to serve as Rhode Island's $135,000 a year chief marketing officer. As recently as Thursday, Wall was making media appearances and defending the fundamentals of the state's tourism campaign. Raimondo said she has accepted Wall's resignation.

"I talked to her this week," the governor said. "Obviously, in the the past few days and it became clear to both of us that that was the right thing to do."

The governor said blame for the botched effort is widespread, although she didn't identify other individuals by name.

Raimondo said it remains undetermined if Wall, a resident of the Boston suburb of Winchester, will receive additional compensation as part of her departure.

The governor said Seth Goldenberg, a RISD grad who runs Jamestown-based Epic Decade, will serve as the state's interim coordinator of marketing, starting next week.

The new tourism campaign that attracted sharp criticism involves $5 million in spending, although only part of that amount has already been spent.

Raimondo said she's learned a lot in the last few days. "One of the things that I've learned from listening and engaging with people, there should have been more public participation in this effort from the get-go. And we need to fix that. It is crystal clear to me that Rhode Islanders have a deep and abiding passion for our state. People love Rhode Island."

After pointing to what she called excessive negativity a few days earlier in a Providence Journal interview, Raimondo said the criticism of the troubled tourism campaign stems from Rhode Islanders' concern for getting things right and wanting to be listened to. "I see that passion and we're all coming from the same place," she said.

The governor said the state will now try to spark a statewide conversation to improve the tourism campaign and will unveil a social media approach to aid in that.

Former Rhode Island marketing director Betsy Wall
Former Rhode Island marketing director Betsy Wall