PHOENIX -- In the face of bottom-of-the-barrel classroom spending, massive cuts to universities and efforts to cut health care for the poor, the Ducey administration has decided what it needs to do is spend money to polish the state's image.
Gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato said his boss and the Arizona Commerce Authority have hired a firm to talk with Arizonans to come up with the kind of catch phrase that has helped define other states, like "Don't Mess With Texas'' or "I (Heart) NY.'' Scarpinato said the governor wants a single selling point for Arizona that covers everything from promoting tourism to getting companies to relocate here.
And Kathy Heasley, president of the Scottsdale-based firm that got the contract, said it will involve more than words. She also envisions creating a logo so that people instantly identify it with Arizona.
Heasley acknowledged that much of what is known about Arizona, particularly by outsiders, is because the state -- and its politicians and laws and policies -- often wind up as comedy fodder for late-night talk show hosts. But she said that's not her concern.
"The key, really, is to be a positive voice and to put a positive voice out there,'' Heasley said. She said this is all about "messaging.''
Scarpinato was even more precise in what the administration hopes to accomplish.
"If we want to see economic development, if we want to see tourists come here ... this is a chance to say, 'What do we want to tell people about Arizona,' '' he said.
And the negative stuff?
"There isn't a state in the union that doesn't have issues,'' Heasley said.
"No state, no entity, no company is going to be able to completely, 100 percent squelch all the commentary that might be made,'' she said. "But what does need to happen is there needs to be a positive voice, a balanced voice that comes out there, too.''
If that sounds a lot like selling something like ice cream, that's no accident: Heasley&Partners did the same thing for Cold Stone Creamery when Doug Ducey was its chief executive.
"There's actually more similarities than there are differences,'' said Heasley, whose firm describes itself as a "branding company.''
"People buy with their hearts and justify with their minds,'' she said.
So how does Arizona get to this new message?
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"First. we find the heart of the state or the organization or even the person,'' Heasley explained. "We brand people, too.''
Scarpinato said that will involve going out and "talking directly to everyday citizens out on the street'' as well as leaders in the business, education and minority communities. The question for them, he said, is "What is great about Arizona and what do we want people to know about Arizona.''
Next, said Heasley, is taking that "heart'' and putting it into words.
"We develop the messaging,'' she said. "Then you take the messaging and have to create and put that into imagery because 90 percent of the communications and the stimulus we get as human beings happens visually.''
That's the logo.
Scarpinato said the experiences in other states with their unique and easily identifiable catch phrases and logos prove they work.
"Those are more than just slogans,'' he said.
"They're things where the state and the people of the state have kind of rallied behind them,'' Scarpinato said. "And it works because it's organic to the state and people feel like it's something they can embrace.''
And what of the state's shortcomings, like its low per-student education funding? Scarpinato said that's a separate issue and has nothing to do with this campaign.
"The governor has laid out his agenda and will deal with those issues, whether it's on education, whether it's on health care, whether it's on the economy and getting more people back to work and better jobs,'' he said. Scarpinato also said no one is trying to paper over those issues.
"Part of it will be looking at ourselves in the mirror and saying, 'OK, what are our challenges?' '' he said. Scarpinato promised to be "very public through the process,'' including putting out the negative things that folks are saying.
But he said that negative stuff is what makes it important to get a positive message out.
"You and I and everyone that lives here knows that this is a great state,'' Scarpinato continued. "Otherwise, we wouldn't be living here.''
Scarpinato said it's just a coincidence that Heasley's company, which did work for Ducey in his ice cream days, got the contract. He said it was awarded through a competitive bidding process.
But no one could say what all this is going to cost. Commerce Authority spokeswoman Susan Marie said only that it will be done "well within the parameters of ACA's existing marketing budget,'' which she did not disclose.
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"The key, really, is to be a positive voice and to put a positive voice out there.''
Kathy Heasley, president, Heasley&Partners