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Turism&Travel : Arizona: A blast of shiny, happy, sunshine-colored PR could help

Sunday 16 May 2010

Everyone in Arizona can agree on this: Right now, the state could use a blast of shiny, happy, sunshine-colored PR.

Fallout from Senate Bill 1070 has made Arizona the national punching bag, its very own vortex of boycotts and late-night TV shenanigans.

Arizona: "It's a dry fascism." Arizona: "the meth lab of democracy." Also: "It's Cinco de Mayo, or as they call it in Arizona, May 5th." (Courtesy of "Saturday Night Live," Jon Stewart and Jimmy Fallon, respectively.)

After a particularly stinging week, Gov. Jan Brewer formed a tourism task force Thursday to polish Arizona's tainted image. (We're guessing they won't go with: "Arizona. We're huge in a spoof on YouTube.")

Meanwhile, Los Angeles and Austin joined the boycott, and a rapper named Pitbull canceled his upcoming Tempe show. Phoenix announced that $90 million in convention business is at risk over the next five years, and Chicago lawmakers and editorial boards are eyeing us with doom. Faced with more boycotts, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon is calling other mayors to say "please." Even the Arizona Office of Tourism's Facebook page now carries a disclaimer against nasty comments: We delete.

Arizona has been beaten, bullied, belittled, bruised. Even the red rocks of Sedona look black and blue.

Reason and rhetoric and politics aside, this hurts.

To remind the American public about the attributes of Arizona - Amar'e Stoudemire's arms, for example, or a sweet little spot called the Grand Canyon - The Republic asked Valley public-relations and branding agencies to do what they do best: spin, baby, spin.

We gave them the task of creating a slogan and logo designed to bring our state some love.

Something along the lines of "Arizona: Have you been to Pizzeria Bianco?" or "Arizona: In August, you can almost stay here for free."

A few agencies told us no, citing the PR black eye of anything SB 1070-associated, no matter the context. Others played along, submitting psalms to Arizona's heritage or careful messages of political neutrality.

We also had to promise to pre-soothe their clients' feathers with this disclaimer: The participating agencies are not expressing political leaning by participating in this article. Except for political consultant Jason Rose, who, well, he has thoughts on SB 1070 and Brewer's task force.

Rose, a spin master for such clients as Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Attorney General candidate Andrew Thomas, supports the state's controversial new immigration law. He does not, however, approve of the state's plan to mitigate the resulting PR mess.

"A task force is a cop-out," Rose says. The aftershocks from SB 1070 "have gone beyond anything anybody could have imagined . . . and it's not going to be addressed by a clever advertising campaign."

The task force has a month to develop a plan to present to the governor. The first meeting has not yet been scheduled, according to Kiva Couchon, spokeswoman for the Arizona Office of Tourism.

Arizona has been taking heat for three weeks, and Rose says we can't afford another month.

"We're way past thinking about the issue. We're way past studying the issue," he says. "We need emergency leadership now."

The governor, he says, might even consider declaring a state of emergency in order to suspend the rules that can slow governmental agencies from swift action.

However, Brewer's senior adviser says it's more important to have a measured response.

"Sometimes, what I'd say, is that haste makes waste," says Chuck Coughlin, Brewer's top consultant and campaign manager. "It's more important to do it right. . . . You don't have to wave at every flag. You just have to be thoughtful about what you're doing."

Makeover and mockery

Other states, such as Utah and Pennsylvania, are considering laws similar to SB 1070, and Arizona Tourism Alliance vice chair Win Holden hopes that might ease Arizona's PR burden.

"There's always got to be somebody that jumps in the river first to find out if there's a crocodile swimming around in there," says Holden, publisher of Arizona Highways Magazine and a former advertising executive. "We, unfortunately, were the first ones to hold our nose and jump."

But Brewer's current defense of " 'Hey, the law mirrors what the feds are doing,' isn't working," he says, and Arizona's image makeover isn't an overnight or even monthlong task.

"I don't care if the task force comes out with the most brilliant campaign since the first Macintosh commercial. I just don't think you're going to turn the tide of opinion," Holden says. "But at the end of the day, something is better than nothing."

The task force will focus first on encouraging Arizonans to vacation within the state, then spreading the Arizona love outside our borders.

Those plans will include marketing Arizona where the tourism office has identified our most likely visitors: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Denver and Mexico - all places where anti-Arizona sentiment has brought boycotts, protests or worry.

(Dear Montana: friend us on Facebook?)

Arizona Office of Tourism director Sherry Henry was appointed to her job by Brewer. Henry says her plans to market Arizona will not change or be adapted in light of the national fray.

"This is a very controversial subject, and people are very emotional about it," Henry says. "What's interesting is that they still want come to Arizona."

Arizona's official ad campaign du jour plays on the phrase "free to be," and directs would-be visitors to, where they're met with this slogan: "Experience the state of freedom. Arizona."

Comedians say they already have their irony-hungry eyes all over it. This week, the Second City comedy troupe's YouTube spoof of another Arizona ad campaign landed on the Internet's Huffington Post.

The clip portrays a Hispanic man testifying about the glories of Arizona until he is interrupted by a police siren in the background and runs off-screen. The video's punch line: "Arizona. Come for the barren desert wasteland, stay for the hospitality."

And there's more where that came from, says creator Andy Cobb, an LA comic writer and actor.

"My advice to Arizona? Strap in. Comics are going to have a field day with Arizona for a good spell," Cobb says. And he's sorry about that "barren wasteland" thing. Kind of.

"I'll be honest," Cobb says. "I've toured Arizona, and Arizona is physically gorgeous, but this is the sort of (expletive) that Arizona will be taking as long as this law is around."

Other Phoenix tourism and city officials have been scrambling to deflect the negative onslaught, compiling a watch list of events in jeopardy from the SB 1070 political maelstrom. Deputy City Manager David Krietor keeps that list, and the boycott tally, on his desk.

Gordon has been chatting with the mayors of Philadelphia, New York City, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Portland, Ore., leaning on inter-mayor friendships to try to rebuff boycotts, Gordon says. And yes, he has been invoking the word "please."

Gordon also is proposing a resolution at the Conference of Mayors in Oklahoma City on June 14: Please don't boycott Arizona.

Support from outside

Meanwhile, gonzo attempts to help Arizona are cropping up across the country.

After San Diego's city council boycotted Arizona, San Diego hotels received cancellations from Arizonans mounting boycotts of their own, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

Worried about the loss of "Zonie" tourism dollars, San Diego tourism officials are publishing an open letter to Arizona in media outlets this weekend, including The Republic, inviting us to ignore politics and come back to the beach.

On the radio, Los Angeles-area talk-show host Tony Katz invited his listeners to join him in Arizona for a "Buy Arizona" weekend June 4-6. Katz also is offering free radio ads to Arizona businesses.

"We'd just like to bring as many dollars as we can to Arizona," says Katz, whose Tony Katz Radio Spectacular show stridently broadcasts his support for SB 1070. "We don't agree with what's happening to you. Arizona business owners . . . are being targeted, and they didn't do anything."

Katz also has invited Buy Arizona weekend revelers to join him at a June 5 rally in Phoenix to support the immigration law.

On Facebook, the melee is fierce: There's a "Buycott Arizona" page, a "Don't Boycott AZ Tourism" page, even "Boycott San Francisco for Boycotting Arizona." Facebookers also can join a page boycotting such celebrities as Shakira who are speaking out against the immigration law, and 426 people like this.

The "Don't Boycott AZ Tourism" site was created by Kristen Jarnagin, spokeswoman for the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association and Arizona Tourism Alliance. "Don't punish 200,000K tourism employees for politics!" the page pleads.

"Not everyone on there agrees with our message," Jarnagin says. Most of them don't, and the site is now part platform for pro-boycott cries like "Yes! Do it!" Jarnagin deleted the comments with photos showing the Ku Klux Klan or the Statue of Liberty in tears.

"But every now and then we are encouraged by some of the comments that people provide," says Jarnagin, who has spoken out against boycotts to the New York Daily News, Britain's Independent and Mexican TV network Televisa.

After Jarnagin was quoted in an article on, she read through the readers' comments and "thought that we'd be hammered a bit more," she says. "But we weren't. Almost all of them . . . (said) boycotts aren't fair. They're starting to repeat our messaging, which is giving us hope that a sliver of our message is getting across."

That message? "Arizona is a great destination," Jarnagin says. "We're encouraging people to pause, take some of the emotion out of it, and think."

Autor: eTurboNews
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