Surprise! We’re Western Mass

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Well, we agree, then. We will tell the rest of the world we live in Western Mass.

And while some of us may not necessarily want the rest of the world to descend on our home turf, it makes good sense to attract tourists and prospective employees to help grow our region’s businesses and industries, and tourism economy. If the Western Mass brand helps, great.

That’s why we support the joint marketing campaign by the Greater Springfield Visitors and Convention Bureau and the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts to promote the region as a great place to live, do business and visit. The two agencies have belatedly adopted Western Mass as the new brand to tout the Pioneer Valley outside the region.

Use of the term Western Mass means that the former West Mass brand — announced with fanfare in February but immediately met with much derision from the public — is being abandoned in favor of a term already familiar to those who live, work and study in the Pioneer Valley.

Bureau president Mary Kay Wydra and EDC president Rick Sullivan said the local blowback fueled the decision to ditch West Mass in April.

Yet, they argued, the phrase Pioneer Valley, to refer to the three counties between the Berkshires and Worcester County, was coined generations ago and doesn’t tell people outside the region where we are — as much as we use it within the region in the names of many businesses and organizations.

While not exactly snappy, the moniker “Western Mass” does tell people outside our region where to find us, which is a core goal of the branding. The original West Mass was intended to do the same, but the branders in Springfield realized they needed the region to buy in to any new brand because we are our best ambassadors to the outside world. And they have a point. How many of us, when on a vacation and bragging about our area, say we are from the Pioneer Valley? We are more likely to say “Western Mass.”

The partnership between the two Springfield organizations to promote the region primarily to Boston, New York City and Connecticut, will also involve other major players in the valley, big employers and tourist attractions like Yankee Candle in Deerfield, who will start dovetailing their promotion and marketing and incorporating the Western Mass brand.

The branding is important to tourism organizations and employers seeking fresh blood, so the joint marketing program is important and a smart move.

“We were really looking for a brand that resonates outside the region to attract people in,” Sullivan said. “Why not tie the message for economic development to travel and tourism?” Why not, indeed.

There have been constant challenges in recruiting, training and retaining talented workers to the region, Sullivan says. His organization is trying to train local job seekers to match the well-paying jobs that go begging, coordinating more with community colleges and vocational schools to provide the needed talent.

Sullivan points to close connections between Holyoke Community College and the planned MGM casino resort in Springfield, for example, and to Greenfield Community College and the University of Massachusetts teaming up on sustainability education for emerging alternative energy industries.

But attracting outsiders with the right skills is also necessary.

Both Sullivan and Wydra are confident that the marketing campaign can successfully achieve that by touting what we offer, in addition to the well-known attractions such as the Basketball Hall of Fame, Yankee Candle, Six Flags New England and the Eric Carle Museum.

Wydra and friends are smart to promote the area with the “three As” that we often use to describe the region to distant friends and newcomers: “Accessibility,” to mountains and oceans, and cultural amenities like those provided by the Five Colleges and world-class cities of Boston and New York; “Attractions,” like Yankee Candle, the state’s second-largest tourist draw, but also the great outdoors activities like our whitewater rafting, zip lines, biking and hiking; and “Affordability” of homes and the general cost of living compared to that of highly developed urban areas.

Wydra said she remains pleased with the work done by Cubic Creative, despite the criticism she got for paying $80,000 to the Oklahoma firm to rebrand the Pioneer Valley. We understand the money was just to coin the phrase Western Mass, and that Cubic’s work also involves creating a style guide and a marketing campaign that uses the new brand and that local designers are being hired to translate elements of this into print and video.

Nevertheless, we remain skeptical that a local firm could not have done a better job or that we needed to spend $80,000 to get to Western Mass. After all, don’t the abundance of creative people who live and work here know this place best?