RI lawmakers question giving Commerce Corporation $5M after 'Cooler and Warmer' fail

The Rhode Island Commerce Corporation is coordinating with local tourism councils on restarting the “Cooler and Warmer” tourism campaign. (WJAR)

The Rhode Island Commerce Corporation is coordinating with local tourism councils on restarting the "Cooler and Warmer" tourism campaign.

After nearly a week of backlash to the botched video and logo, Gov. Gina Raimondo tossed the slogan out.

On Tuesday, NBC 10 News was the only station that attended a big meeting, which marked the first time the regional tourist directors were consulted. All six were present, including one by phone.

The meeting involved Seth Goldenberg, who is the new head of the tourism campaign.

"We live in a time of user-generated content and crowd sourcing, and all these things are real and live," Goldenberg said. "This is civic discourse at its best, from my point of view."

The 'Cooler and Warmer' slogan received so much criticism that it may actually become an asset. Some of the various alternatives consisted of potholes and iced coffee, dumb and dumber, as well as wieners and coffee milk.

The Commerce Corporation is thinking about hosting design workshops throughout the state to encourage small businesses to "make it yours."

Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor was at the meeting, too.

"There are a lot of lessons to learn," Pryor said. "We did make a number of mistakes. It was a terrific conversation. They were very open and honest. They want to be more of a partner in the process. That's an area where we have to emphasize more. The governor's asked us to make sure that the regional tourism boards of Rhode Island are heavily involved."

Pryor shared similar sentiments later on Tuesday night at the Rhode Island State House, as lawmakers are about to debate whether to give the Commerce Corporation another $5 million for next year's budget. He attempted to reassure members of the House Finance Committee and the public that lessons were learned from the roll out.

"We will make this state proud by making the necessary corrections," Pryor said. "We've got to fix those mistakes. We've got to move forward."

Pryor went on to say that the new strategy will involve the public's input, including the satirical version of the cooler and warmer logo, which spread across social media.

"People are embracing the design, tweaking it, innovating with it, having fun with it," Pryor said. "Frankly, that's positive."

But Rep. Daniel Reilly, along with other lawmakers, expects more than just drawings. He wants a detailed accounting of the current and future budgets.

"(I'm) trying to get to the bottom of what it is they're doing over there," Reilly said. "We're not done with this fiscal year, so we haven't spent all the money. I want to know how much money is left."

As far as taking responsibility for the campaign problem, Pryor said it starts with him.

"When anything happens within my team, I take responsibility," he said. "I'll take responsibility across the board when anything happens."

Yet, Betsy Wall, who was the chief marketing officer of the Commerce Corporation resigned on Friday. Now, Pryor said they are actively searching for a replacement. He also noted that they prefer the position be filled by a Rhode Islander.

Evan Smith of Discover Newport is glad the councils now have a chance to offer information to the state.

"What we want to do is make sure we are connecting all those resources together to assist the state campaign because many of us have been doing this for a long time," Smith said.

While the sail logo will remain, the new slogan is still a work in progress.

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