West Mass branding put on pause while organizers gather feedback

For the Gazette
Published: 4/22/2017 12:09:19 AM

GREENFIELD — “West Mass” is on hold until further notice.

In response to a dramatic public outcry when the name was unveiled a few months ago, “we have hit pause,” Economic Development Council of Western Mass., President Rick Sullivan said on Thursday.

“It’s fair to say we’ve been impressed by the level of passion residents and people from the area have had about the brand name,” he said.

The council has commissioned an online survey released Wednesday seeking confidential public input.

Heavy criticism was leveled at the marketing strategy after its release in February, including the use of an online petition that has garnered more than 1,500 signatures.

“They don’t really have any choice — you don’t just go about renaming that sort of thing. There’s too much equity in it already,” said Mitch Anthony, brand strategist at Clarity in Greenfield.

Anthony said more local input should have been solicited initially, and branding should have focused on what’s already in the region — a vibrant culture rich in history with a thriving sense of community — instead of rebranding. He noted, “there’s an opportunity to collaborate more north and south, and celebrate the whole valley up and down.”

The survey was created with help from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Westfield State University. Results will be analyzed independently by UMass.

Looking ahead, Sullivan said, “we are going to follow the data” from the survey when making branding decisions.

Economic Development Council of Western Mass. and its allied Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, both of Springfield, developed and proposed the “West Mass” as part of their efforts to market the valley outside the region.

The new survey “is to get more information from both in market and out of market. We’re eager to see the results as well,” said Mary Kay Wydra, president of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau President. “When we rolled out the first brand there was positive response but it was from a lot of people we interacted with.”

While the “West Mass” marketing campaign — created for $80,000 by the Oklahoma creative firm Cubic Creative — was “mostly outward focused” to “attract companies, visitors, conventions, and workers from out of the area to come to the region,” Sullivan said the council and bureau understand the “need to have (local) brand ambassadors.”

“The data shows that most people, when they’re out of the region and someone asks ‘where do you live?’ The vast majority of people will say ‘western Massachusetts,’” Sullivan said.

“We want to enhance the region, and we feel passionate about the region, too. The nature of the work we do, the majority, is out of market. But we want to be sensitive to in-market, we’ve heard the voices and we encourage people to take the survey,” Wydra said.

Anthony, a Greenfield resident who’s lived in seven towns throughout the Pioneer Valley, said he hopes this time, branding will reflect the people.

“We need to hear from those people who chose to call the Pioneer Valley home, from the rural small towns to the urban neighborhoods. We need to engage voices. Their voices need to be channeled,” Anthony said.

No one from Franklin County Chamber of Commerce was available to comment on this latest development Thursday. Northampton Chamber of Commerce declined to comment.

The survey can be found here: svy.mk/2pTots4.

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