Why Spend $22 Million To Extol Connecticut's Virtues? Because We're Worth It
Two-Year State Marketing Campaign Can't Come Soon Enough
By Rick Green
January 17, 2012
What would you tell the world about Connecticut?
I'd talk about everywhere you can go here — easily — like the mountains, the beaches and even a few cool neighborhoods all within reach. I like that you can feel and touch the actual places where real history happened, where people connected to the past still live. Sure there's small stuff I dislike, such as driving home late at night from a Red Sox game, the inability to buy a six-pack after 8 p.m. or having to listen to yet another whiner about how they can't wait to get the heck out of here. (Leave already, will you?)
There's little doubt we have an image problem that is, at least in part, undeserved. How else would a state with among the highest percentages of old people be named one of the worst places to retire? If it's so bad, why are they all here?
Recognizing that it would be a bad move to let the Connecticut-trashers win the day again — the place with the high taxes, the place where young people leave, the place that can't create new jobs — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is going to spend $22 million on a two-year marketing campaign. It's about time.
It's a wise, essential investment for a state that routinely gets hammered. Like a failed political candidate, we've let others define us.
"It's how we want the outside world to think of us,'' said Kip Bergstrom, executive director of the State Commission on Culture and Tourism, when I asked him about the new campaign. "It has to be aspirational … it has to be the best of what we've been and what we are."
We shouldn't market the state like a casino or another phony lottery scratch ticket game, but I know we can't let the small-minded define us. A good example of this can be found in a group called "Americans for Prosperity," a fringe political group funded by the right-wing Koch Brothers that spoke out against the new marketing campaign Tuesday — and used it as a chance to whack Malloy. These folks would prefer we shut the lights off.
I can tell we need to do something because half of the comments on my blog post about this topic the other day couldn't get beyond bashing Connecticut. And what I'd asked for were stories about why they like Connecticut. Maybe it's no surprise. Under our previous governor, we didn't even bother to join an organization promoting the New England states, a decision that infamously and literally left us off the tourist map.
If we want young entrepreneurs out of Yale or UConn to stay, if we want digital media companies to grow here and others to move here, we do have to make this state more affordable. But we've also got to do a better job telling the outside world what works about Connecticut. The new campaign, a two-year effort emphasizing both tourism and economic development, will begin by the spring.
"When you have no presence at all, it's the worst thing. People start to forget. You have to constantly reinforce a message,'' said Tony Kobylinski, creative director at Chowder Inc., the New York City marketing firm that will oversee the new campaign. "You have to show that this is a great place to work and to bring a young family to raise in a safe environment."
What would Kobylinski, a Westport resident, say about his home state?
"I'm really impressed by how progressive the people are in the state. They are a modern mindset. They are very forward thinking,'' he said. "I like that people are willing to express their opinions, both good and bad."
I'd say this is a place where there's way more than meets the eye. This is a state where you can drive out to Litchfield County and talk to a man related to the first Americans, who still lives on an Indian reservation in Kent. I'd say I like the fact that they speak dozens of different languages in my kids' schools. I'd tell folks I can ride my bike from West Hartford into the Farmington Valley and enjoy a cold beverage in front of the LaSalle Market in friendly, quirky Collinsville and feel like I'm in northern California.
Instead of always finding 10 reasons why Connecticut doesn't work, maybe we should all think a little more about what does work about this place, about why we live here — and why a lot of us haven't left.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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