In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: For two hundred grand, we could do better than an orange tie

We’ve now been officially rebranded. With an orange necktie.

This is one pricey piece of neckwear. We paid a Tennessee marketing firm $205,000 to conceptualize (a word beloved by marketing whizzes) substituting the letter “i” in Florida with that stifling and stodgy symbol of male office wear.

Very catchy. Gov. Rick Scott embraced the concept as “a brand that will solidify our reputation to the nation and the world.” Which, given the governor’s reputation for divining public sentiment, might prompt the Chamber of Commerce to head for the bunkers.

Enterprise Florida, the quasi public, tax-payer funded operation tasked with luring (some say bribing) out-of-state businesses to Florida, now wants $3 million to splash the new brand around the nation, along with a nifty new slogan, “The perfect climate for business.”

But the proposed marketing campaign illustrates the risk inherent in hiring an outfit from Nashville to peddle Florida’s attributes.

It didn’t seem to occur to the creative thinkers running North Star Destination Strategies, located 490 miles north of Tallahassee, that down this way, women-folk have an actual place in the business community.

They know now. The male-centric tie campaign brought on an eruption of feminine pique. Alex Sink, the former Florida Chief Financial Officer and gubernatorial candidate, reacted this week with a Facebook rant: “What a terrible way to brand our state. We are diverse. We are modern. And we won’t stand for our state to be portrayed as having a stuffy, outdated climate for business.”

Newspapers and business journals around the state fairly roiled with similar reactions from irritated business women. Perhaps North Star had been misled by all those white guys on the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors, with just nine women (and one black man) on its 62-member board of directors. Enterprise Florida’s self-professed mission is to “diversify Florida’s economy,” but apparently not its own executive board. On the board’s online portrait gallery, I counted 51 necks draped in ties, none of them orange.

North Star’s lack of familiarity with Florida led to another mistake that would have been obvious to an in-state firm. In this state, a certain entity already owns the orange necktie brand. At least in the public mind.

Coach Al Golden’s neckwear is so much a part of his persona, and, by extension, so emblematic of University of Miami football that the very sight of an orange necktie elicits a hostile reaction and possibly a fistfight anywhere within a 100-mile radius of Tallahassee.

Even before the orange tie fiasco, business folks had been questioning why Enterprise Florida, supposedly dedicated to bringing jobs into the state, had out-sourced a marketing contract to Tennessee. Which might as well have been Mumbai. Well, the answer is right there on the company’s website. North Star Destination Strategies, despite its own not very catchy brand, has handled some of the most significant branding challenges in America.

A contract with North Star provided the genius that tagged Estherville, Iowa, with “Elements of a Good Life.” (Some elements, anyway). Goshen, Ind., became “Uncommonly good. Uncommonly great.” (Or just plain uncommon.)

North Port, Florida, a nondescript chunk of suburban sprawl between Sarasota and Fort Myers, was rebranded as the place to “achieve anything,” a slogan that the Sarasota Herald-Tribune decided was appropriate given that the recession-stunted city “lacks a movie theater, mall or bowling alley.” Indeed, anything would be an achievement.

For its money, Lee’s Summit, Missouri, got the inexplicable slogan “Yours truly.” Roanoke, Virg., was christened the not so inexplicable “Virginia’s Blue Ridge,” and locals must have been slapping themselves on the head, gazing at the mountain vistas, wondering, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Or maybe they had.

Simple-minded stuff doesn’t come easy. North Star suggested that it took a “two-year re-branding effort involving more than 1,500 people” to decide to change the seven-county region formerly known as “Iowa’s Technology Corridor” to “Iowa’s Creative Corridor.”

Marathon County, Wisconsin, got itself the slogan, “Central Time” — I have no idea why. However the state of Mississippi, stubbornly clinging to an antebellum, south-will-rise-again mindset, was easy: “Find Your Own True South.” Yeehaw.

You’d think a town like Moose Jaw, in Saskatchewan, Canada, would inspire a particularly witty, rustic slogan. But Moose Jaw was stuck with “Surprisingly Unexpected,” which would have been a better fit for Tijuana. The Moose Jaw trademark does include an explanation point fashioned from a moose antler. Maybe the use of drawing in the typeface presaged Florida’s orange tie.

Alex Sink has offered her own counter-campaign. “Florida is the state for innovators and entrepreneurs. Ditch the tie and join us.”

Enterprise Florida claimed the orange tie and “perfect climate” slogan was derived from “430 survey responses, 172 interviews, 26 focus groups and 19 tours.” Apparently, for another $125,000, a Jacksonville marketing firm was brought in to craft the final scintillating product.

I’m pretty sure that a newspaper columnist could have come up with something just as catchy after a fact-finding mission along Ocean Drive on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

It’s early in my marketing research project — it’s going to be tough coming up with new and innovative ways to fritter away $330,000 of the public’s money — but I’m pretty certain about one thing. Whatever skimpy attire my marketing campaign embraces, it won’t involve neckties. Orange or otherwise.

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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