Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Laura Bedrossian.
“If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” is a saying with which many are familiar. But how about: “If it is broke, let’s just keep doing the same thing over and over?” While it sounds ridiculous, I’m convinced it’s the new motto for my home state of Rhode Island and the root cause of its branding problem.
Currently, I live in New York, but Rhode Island is very near and dear to my heart, having lived there the majority of my life. The Providence Journal’s Mark Patinkin has written a few humorous books on Rhode Island, discussing everything from the local culture to the unique accent. At the heart of Patinkin’s writing is the message that if you grew up in Rhode Island, it never really leaves you – and he’s right.
Rhode Island has so much to offer – from its beaches to its history to its delicious food. For these reasons and more, it should be a go-to destination for tourists. Instead, a scan of the news may leave you believing you’re stepping into a political circus. Just a sampling of the stories on which the state has looked foolish over the last few years:
– The state’s current governor, Lincoln Chafee, once made it to the U.S Senate, making an interesting mark. Instead of voting in the 2004 presidential election for someone that was running, he thought it would be better to cast a write-in for Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, as a “symbolic protest.”
– Right before Chafee, we had Gov. Donald Carcieri, who hired his niece and then tried to get the local news to apologize to him when they asked questions on nepotism. Eventually he admitted fault, citing that it was unclear on why this could be an issue. (I’ve always liked the word unclear.)
– Most recently, former Providence mayor, Buddy Cianci, made headlines for announcing that he wanted his old office back. Cianci is also known for his marinara sauce (in fairness, it’s actually delicious), but also for his time in prison. Yes, let’s vote corruption right back in.
I want people to love RI as much as I do. To do this we need to change the narrative. And the Tourism Board should take a stand and hire media relations/reputation management professionals to start seeding stories on what makes the state special.
They could focus on local business leaders – like my grandparents, whose deli, The Food Chalet, has stood for 42 years and counting, Carolyn Rafaelian, founder of Alex and Ani, who started a nationwide fashion craze from her home that has gotten so big, I’ve seen ads in the cabs here in NYC and Del’s Lemonade, which has been a thriving business and a staple for residents since the 1940s.
Step 1 is voting in new people with fresh ideas who will be in the news for doing something to make the state standout in a good way. Step 2 is putting a concerted effort into the state’s branding. Wake up, Rhode Island, you’re great and people should know it—you just need the right communications folks to help.