By Brian Clark
The Northeastern Wisconsin Economic Development Partnership is hiring the Chicago-based SamataMason public relations firm to do a branding study for is 18-county region.
Kathi Siefert, a former Kimberly Clark executive, confirmed that the Illinois company had been chosen for the job. Siefert, co-chair of the non-profit partnership, now runs an Appleton consulting firm called Pinnacle Perspectives. The other co-chair is Bob DeKoch of the Boldt Company.
Siefert said the group considered Wisconsin firms but wanted to get an outside view and a “fresh perspective.” She also praised the branding work SamataMason did for We Energies in a recent branding campaign.
Siefert would not comment on how much the partnership will pay, but she said some of the work SamataMason will do is “pro bono” or free. She also said the Chicago firm will work with northeast Wisconsin public relations companies to implement the branding program.
In March, Gov. Jim Doyle announced that Commerce Department would give the partnership a $380,000 economic development grant. Tony Hozeny, a spokesman for Commerce, said the money is to be used for administration and operation of the partnership. He said the state money would not be spent on the branding study.
“They will be raising another $920,000 on their own,” he said. “That is where the branding study money will come from.”
While there are no regulations that require Wisconsin groups to spend development grants in-state, he said his agency tries to promote that.
“As a practical matter, people are looking for the low bidder to do the work,” he said. “With a non-profit, to the extent that we can channel expenditures in state, we do that.”
Siefert said she hoped that hiring a Chicago firm to do the branding study would not cause hard feelings.
“I hope there won’t be criticism,” she said. “In the end, we want this to be a team effort.”
But Mark Schmitz, creative director and a principal at ZD Studios in Madison, said he was disappointed to learn the economic development partnership went to a Chicago firm. ZD Studios specializes in visual brand development for major destination facilities, communities and corporations around the country. Clients include Westin Hotels, the Green Bay Packers and Miller Brewing.
“It is a sad commentary on the state of business in Wisconsin that a group trying to promote economic development thinks it has to go out of state to find talent,” he said.
“As a high-end specialty brand development firm, I don’t buy it,” he said.
“And even if they aren’t directly using taxpayers’s money, that’s now how people in the professional design and branding business see it,” he said.
Schmitz said the hiring of SamataMason reminded him of the decision by the city of Madison a few years ago to hire a Michigan firm to design the Monona Terrace Convetion Center logo.
“Things like this are very confusing to our professional industry, to say the least,” he said.
Pepi Randolph, who heads the Commerce-based effort Forward Wisconsin, declined to rap the group’s hiring of an Illinois company. Forward Wisconsin works to get out-of-state companies relocate or expand in the Badger State.
“We weren’t involved in their decision,” he said. “But more power to them if they can better brand and market their area.”
Rep. Steve Wieckert, R-Appleton, said he supports the effort to brand northeast Wisconsin and backs the economic development group in its effort to find the best firm it can.
“I know Wisconsin has some talented companies,” he said. “But sometimes if you go outside the state you can get a better view.”
Wieckert called branding an “idea whose time has come.”
This is the second year that he has introduced measures to brand Wisconsin. This year’s bill is Assembly Bill 389 and it would ask the Department of Administration to coordinate the study.
“We need to promote what Wisconsin does well,” he said. “We are one of the best-kept secrets in the nation.
“We have contacted some of the best branding consultants in the nation – from as far away as California – and they are interested in doing some of the work for free because no one has branded a whole state.”
In addition to its trademark cheese, cows and corn – which adorn the state quarter – Wieckert said Wisconsin has a lot to offer businesses that might want to relocate here.
“We have a high quality of life, excellent schools, beautiful scenery and perhaps most important to employers, a really strong work ethic.
“We have a lot to offer here, but we just don’t brag enough about it,” he said. “That’s why branding can be so important.”