We Got Our -ERN Back, Now How Bout That $80,000

Four months ago, then-Advocate arts editor Hunter Styles wrote an excellent take-down of the hugely unpopular ad campaign trying to rebrand our region with the name “West Mass.” The heart of it was a list of questions about a dizzying, poorly-thought-out video released along with the brand name — among them “Did it really need to cost $80,000 and take 11 months to decide to take the letters “-ern” off the existing name?”

This week, the “-ern” has been added to the logo … so, does the area get any of that $80,000 back?

The debacle was jointly funded by the Greater Springfield Visitors and Convention Bureau and the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts. Most of the money was collected from member businesses, but also some grant money from the state, i.e. taxpayers.

And the money has already been spent — on the video and a logo that even with the more palatable “Western Mass” still looks like a gas station sign from the 1990s.

How can something like this be avoided in the future? For one, the choice of an outside branding firm from Oklahoma — Cubic Creative — seemed a poor choice, though its president, Billy Kulkin, did give those involved with the process some good advice at the outset.

“A brand identity is very important and you only have one real chance to get it right,” Kulkin said in May 2016 shortly after the firm was hired, according to a MassLive report. “You don’t want to be back here in five years spending a lot of money to do this all over again.”

It actually took less than five months to have to go back to the drawing board.

Mary Kay Wydra, president of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau and Rick Sullivan, the president and CEO of the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts, spoke to the Daily Hampshire Gazette editorial board about the campaign. They said the name “West Mass” was an internal decision that they came up with and that it wasn’t Cubic. They said that there was no opposition to it internally before it was released and they were surprised by the backlash.

If it was Wydra and Sullivan who came up with the name, and none of the people they worked with decided to challenge them, those leaders might want to look at the kind of culture they have at those organizations. Are they places where dissent is tolerated and contrary opinions are valued, or are they places where the bosses get their way?

It is bad enough when such a culture leads to a brand that misrepresents the place we call home, but as we have seen lately, it can lead to such calamities as a Muslim travel ban, leaving the Paris Climate Accord, and an effort to strip more than 20 million people of hard won health insurance.

Here’s another view I hope they consider: the WestERN Mass campaign will primarily be used to promote the region in Boston, New York City, and Connecticut on behalf of companies and institutions throughout the area who are finding positions difficult to fill, but branding the region to outsiders should only be part of this process.

As Chris Goudreau recently wrote in the Advocate (“More Than Half Of Springfield’s Unemployed Don’t Qualify for Casino Jobs,” June 15-21, 2017), unemployment in Springfield is nearly double the state average, and state criminal record law prohibits a majority of them from being eligible to work for MGM, which is bringing 3,000 jobs to the city. There are workers already in the area, whatever you choose to call it.
Let’s be smart about the way we spend our money, and let’s consider the people who already live here in addition to those we hope to bring in.

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at deisen@valleyadvocate.com.

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