Why JWT’s Chairman Wants to Talk About Rhode Island Tourism

Bob Jeffrey lends a hand on small-budget assignment

So why is JWT's Bob Jeffrey calling Adweek about Rhode Island's tourism review?

The account is a small one by big-agency standards—an annual budget of $5 million—and surely there are sexier tourism opportunities out there, in warmer climates. But Jeffrey is a native son who helped get new Gov. Gina Raimondo elected, and as he winds down as non-executive chairman of JWT, he's tackling some pet projects. Jeffrey, JWT's former global CEO, will exit the agency in March 2016.

For Rhode Island, Jeffrey is acting as an unpaid adviser at the request of Raimondo. He's spreading the word on the review, which is being led by the state's economic development arm, the Rhode Island Commerce Corp., which issued a request for proposals last week.

The assignment is ambitious, and the state has an aggressive timetable for completing the search. The Ocean State wants a campaign that will appeal equally to tourists, local businesses, and individuals and businesses interested in relocating there. And the state hopes to hire an agency by the end of next month.

"Our chief focus is tourism promotion, though civic engagement and business attraction are crucial and, ideally, complementary to it," the rfp states. "The $5 million sum includes researching and building a new brand, planning how that brand will be rolled out, and deploying that brand through ad buys, social media plays, grants to local tourism regions, public events to raise Rhode Island's profile, and other means."

In other words, Rhode Island has champagne dreams and a beer budget. But Jeffrey, for one, still sees this as a plum opportunity, possibly for a smaller shop in New England. Then again, he's biased, having grown up in Providence and owning a place in Cranston.

"My interest is just the state of Rhode Island," said Jeffrey. "I have 15 nieces and nephews. I have a big family, and most of these kids end up leaving Rhode Island for job opportunities [elsewhere]. So, that's really been my motivation in helping."

Jeffrey added that Rhode Island has done little marketing in the past, and he has been "banging the drum that they need to do that. So, I've been more of a sounding board on that basis."

Just call it word-of-mouth marketing, one of the many talents of a 33-year advertising veteran.