Rhode Island hires new tourism chief after Iceland debacle

June 10, 2016 GMT

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island has hired a new chief marketing officer after its embarrassing state tourism campaign included a video featuring a scene from Iceland.

Lara Salamano begins July 11, signaling a fresh start to the state’s efforts to tout its sandy beaches and other amenities and attract tourists and new businesses.

Her credentials include two decades in New York as an entertainment industry marketing executive. Her work there included promoting Nickelodeon products. But her roots as a native, enthusiastic Rhode Islander sealed the deal after locals blamed outsiders for the disastrous springtime rollout of a $5 million tourism campaign.

Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor introduced Salamano on Friday.

“She brings a passion when she speaks of Rhode Island,” Pryor said. “She describes Rhode Island as a Rhode Islander does.”

Problems began in March when the state introduced a new sail-shaped logo and a tagline, “Cooler & Warmer,” created by the design guru who came up with the “I Love NY” logo. The Rhode Island slogan left many state residents scratching their heads and was quickly dropped.

It got worse when it was revealed a scene from a promotional video for Rhode Island mistakenly featured a clip from a concert hall in Reykjavik. The video made international news.

The former chief marketing officer, Betsy Wall, resigned in April after Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo called the gaffes unacceptable.

Wall, a Massachusetts resident, had also blundered when she admitted not knowing about the Gaspee Days, the annual June celebration of a 1772 historical event in Warwick.

Salamano, a Warwick native, made a point Friday of mentioning that she attends the Gaspee Days every year. She said she loves the state and is looking forward to her new job.

“As a Rhode Islander, the opportunity to share Rhode Island’s story with the world was an opportunity I could not miss,” she said.

The 45-year-old said she left the state after graduating from the University of Rhode Island but returned four years ago to raise a family.

Her most recent job was as a marketing executive for New York media firm Pop, a joint venture between CBS Corp. and Lions Gate Entertainment. She was commuting to New York two days a week. She lives in East Greenwich and said she applied for the Rhode Island job after reading about the tourism campaign’s troubles in the news. Her salary will be $135,000 a year.

Dissatisfaction with the campaign also recently led lawmakers to propose cutting the statewide tourism budget to $4 million annually and sending extra money back to regional tourism groups.

“We think that’s fair,” Pryor said Friday, flanked by representatives from some of those regional bureaus. “That’s a substantial sum. We believe we can accomplish a lot with that amount of money.”