Rebranding Connecticut:  Can marketing help our state?

Bet you thought Connecticut's problems could be solved by more jobs, better education, streamlined government or a better tax system.

Nope. Our real trouble apparently has a lot to do with stinky "marketing."

We don't do a good job of marketing our "international" airport. We don't do a good job of marketing our three "major" ports. Hell, we don't do a good job marketing the entire state.

Gov. Dannel Malloy has hired a top New York City ad agency, Chowder Inc., to "rebrand Connecticut" and stage a marketing campaign to sell our new image. And all it's costing us is $22 million over two years.

We've also hired a California outfit to develop marketing strategy for the commercially sagging ports of New London, New Haven and Bridgeport. That's costing us $477,179 for one year.

And the brand new Connecticut Airport Authority is bringing on board a new marketing consultant to help Bradley International Airport get its shit together. The rate on that 12-month contract is $137,800.

When Malloy first took office in 2011, members of his staff were somewhat taken aback when they found out Connecticut state government had spent more than $20 million over three years on outside advertising, public relations and media campaigns.

"It sounds like a lot of money," Malloy's senior policy advisor, Roy Occhiogrosso, said at the time. He also said the new administration was going to try and find ways to cut back on public relations costs.

Times have, apparently, changed.

In announcing his plan to "rebrand Connecticut," Malloy noted that ours was the only state in the region that spent no money on marketing itself over the past couple of years. "As we looked at competing states' branding plans, we knew we needed to advertise the state aggressively as a great place to do business and visit."

Chowder should be able to handle the job. Some of its other clients include the Cayman Islands and the Minnesota Vikings.

Of course, Chowder won't have to take on this Connecticut project alone. Also on board will be Media Storm, which is based in Norwalk; a research company called The Harrison Group, out of Waterbury; and Fleishman-Hillard, a top national media player from St. Louis. Those other guys will all get a piece of Chowder's $22 million.

Not everybody has greeted these new marketing efforts with unbridled enthusiasm.

The far-right-wing advocacy group Americans for Prosperity-Connecticut, for example, claims Malloy is only trying to use this marketing campaign as cover for his failure to slash taxes and business regulation.

But there has been praise from Connecticut's tourism industry, which experts estimate generates something like $11.5 billion a year in spending by travelers. State and local tax revenue from tourism comes to about $1.2 billion annually.

One of the first things Chowder is doing is collecting touching personal anecdotes from Connecticut residents describing the things they love about their state.

The goal will then be to pick a brand identity and spread it across TV, radio, magazines and newspapers try to convince people that Connecticut is something more than that little space on the map separating New York City from Boston.

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