April 1, 2019

As tourism industry pushes for more funding, some advocates say it's time to rebrand state, again

HBJ Photo | Joe Cooper
HBJ Photo | Joe Cooper
Baggage claim areas at Bradley International Airport welcome travelers with signage donning Connecticut's “Still Revolutionary” slogan.
Photo | Contributed
Patrons enjoy dessert outside Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream. The seaside village is one of the state’s largest tourism draws.
Photo | HBJ File
Randy Fiveash is the director of the Connecticut Office of Tourism.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, (D-Berlin)

How often should organizations rebrand?

At least once a decade if you're the state of Connecticut. After pumping $27 million over two years in 2012 and 2013, in part, to develop and support its "Still Revolutionary" brand, Gov. Ned Lamont and others say it may be time for the state to adopt a new identity.

If Connecticut does set out to coin a new slogan it would be the fifth one since the 1980s. (For those keeping score, New York has maintained its famous "I Love NY" tagline since 1977.)

It's tough to quantify what kind of payback "Still Revolutionary" has provided Connecticut, but tourism boosters say creating a new slogan is just one of many ways to jumpstart the $14.7 billion industry that fuels economic development and job creation.

While tourism advocates agree Connecticut needs to spend more money to support the industry, pundits vary on which marketing or branding levers should be pulled and how much money is needed to elevate the sector that supports about 83,000 direct jobs.

Most advocates, including a policy group commissioned by Lamont, want to reopen the state's six highway welcome centers, create a multiyear tourism plan and divert additional state revenue from the nation's highest 15 percent lodging tax to the tourism and arts fund.

Meantime, the Blue Ribbon Panel on Tourism, launched by House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin), recently recommended a robust state-appointed council and commissioner to oversee tourism, in addition to the current heads of the state Department of Economic and Community Development and Connecticut Office of Tourism.

Two House bills have emerged from the report, which would task the state to fund a study on tourism promotion and to begin implementing its recommendations in 2020.

The topic has gained attention in recent years as estimates show Connecticut has lost out on hundreds of millions of tourism dollars after it cut industry funding by 73 percent since 2012. The current-year state budget allocates $4.1 million for tourism, while Lamont's two-year proposed budget allocates $4.4 million annually.

The tourism budget had just $1 in 2011.

"If we are struggling with the budget you would think the state wouldn't cut something that is actually earning money," said John Bourget, president of Avon market research firm Witan Intelligence, which has done economic-impact analysis of the state's tourism industry. "Funding tourism is an investment, not an expense."

Bourget touts the state's return on investment (ROI) of $3 to $1 for tourism and $7 to $1 for arts and culture as a reason why lawmakers need to increase investments in the industry.

Regardless of how much money the state's next biennium budget allocates for tourism, Aresimowicz says the state desperately needs a unified voice to earn more out-of-state and in-state leisure dollars.

"If we are going to make a difference, there has to be a comprehensive plan that all stakeholders and lawmakers have bought into," said Aresimowicz, who launched his blue-ribbon panel in October. "I know 'Still Revolutionary' still works for reaching out on economic development, but as far as tourism, I don't know that it works."

Randy Fiveash, director of state tourism, says his office welcomes suggestions on how to continue evolving its multi-tiered marketing playbook, but would still need to see significant data that shows the "Still Revolutionary" slogan and other current practices could be improved.

"We wouldn't jump off the edge to do something new, or change something, until we were good stewards" and thoroughly vetted proposals, he said.

Above all, Fiveash said he hopes his department reclaims funding it's lost over the years.

In 2012, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy increased tourism funding to $15 million, which was the largest annual allotment in state history. A similar investment would help the state reboot welcome centers and TV advertisements and reestablish state marketing in New York City, Boston, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Philadelphia, he said.

A higher, more predictable stream of tourism funding would also help state organizations such as the Connecticut Convention & Sports Bureau, which has lost half its annual state funding since 2012, map out multiyear marketing and sales initiatives, officials say.

Still, despite diminished funding, the Office of Tourism says it's achieved major digital marketing growth via its website, social media channels and mailing lists.

They are now looking to build on that success.

"If you don't have a consistent funding stream to be able to market, then you're not going to be able to put together a marketing strategy that continues to make sense," Fiveash said. "(Tourism) is one of the few industries, one of the few departments or places in the budget, that actually puts money back into the checkbook."

Experts weigh in

There's no exact blueprint for when and how states and organizations should rebrand, according to local ad firms, which all agree Connecticut must invest more in tourism.

After all, Connecticut ranks second-to-last in tourism spending among Northeast states, according to data provided by the Office of Tourism.

Firms say brand changes should be driven by whether a target audience has changed, or if a product no longer aligns with existing marketing strategies.

That means Connecticut would need to take a look at its largest tourism markets in New York City and Boston, officials say.

Jay Sloves, president of Farmington advertising agency Elkinson & Sloves Inc., says the "Still Revolutionary" tagline is clever but takes credit for the American Revolution, which was birthed out of neighboring Massachusetts.

"I think it should have been retired a day after it was introduced," Sloves said of the state's slogan. "Massachusetts owns the Revolution, how could you compete with that?"

Sloves knows all about reeling in a target audience through branding.

His firm convinced its former clients, the owners of the minor league New Britain Rock Cats, to stick with its "These Cats Rock" slogan in the late 1990s because they felt the club was better off selling the gameday experience as a family picnic with a ball game rather than as a major league team. The team's patience paid off as the catchphrase held strong for 17 years until the franchise moved to Hartford.

"A slogan helps define you, but who you are does the defining for you," he said.

Kim Manning, CEO of Glastonbury advertising agency Cronin, says data show the "Still Revolutionary" slogan and branding campaign — which included advertisement placements on TV, radio, billboards and social media, and a revamped statewide tourism website — provided the industry a boost after it launched in 2012, but suggested it may need to be updated.

Manning says development of a new slogan should be performed by a private firm, just as the state did in 2012 when it hired Chowder Inc. to develop its new brand.

That decision, of course, drew criticism from the local ad industry because Chowder is based in New York City. However, proponents say it's worth seeking out-of-state perspectives, especially from a firm based in Connecticut's targeted tourism markets.

"The most powerful brands are rooted in truth," Manning said. "Any new line would have to truly illuminate why our state is strong."

One major issue the tourism industry faces is that it lacks an identity, according to Eric Cavoli, group creative director of Glastonbury marketing and advertising firm CashmanKatz.

"When you think about Connecticut, you don't think about much," Cavoli said.

But another slogan wouldn't by itself attract new visitors to the state.

Tourism stakeholders, he said, must also become more hospitable and buy into Connecticut's brand at a grassroots level. Negativity surrounding the "Still Revolutionary" slogan dampened its debut in 2012, he said.

"You can't just depend on a $15 million advertising campaign," Cavoli said. "The way a business' staff acts and behaves matters."

Connecticut Convention & Sports Bureau President Robert Murdock says his organization rarely, if ever, utilizes the state slogan in advertising campaigns because it can't be leveraged to promote local sporting and convention venues.

Murdock suggested the state may be able to use one slogan for tourism and another for economic development.

"I don't think the slogan is broken," he said. "But perhaps there is something out there that we could use."

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