PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The company that made a Rhode Island tourism video that included footage from Iceland was selected based on advice from a state employee who had worked for that company weeks prior, documents show.
A public relations firm running Rhode Island’s tourism campaign was overruled after they recommended that the state economic development agency use a different company, according to documents released to The Associated Press following a public records request.
The video Rhode Island released in late March was quickly pulled after being mocked for showing footage of a Reykjavik concert hall.
A Providence-based video production service, IndieWhip, made the video.
After the botched rollout, IndieWhip said the video “was not supposed to go public,” and they were told there would be additional changes before the official launch. But the documents released by the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation this week include a message from a company executive referring to the video on the day it was shown, March 28, as “the finished spot.”
The next day, March 29, a Commerce Corporation spokeswoman said the public relations firm Havas selected IndieWhip “in concert with Commerce,” though the internal emails show how the agency picked the vendor.
The agency’s art director, Anthony Cormier, recommended IndieWhip.
Cormier was the art director for IndieWhip from March 2015 to December, according to his LinkedIn account.
He started at the Commerce Corporation on Feb. 15 and recommended IndieWhip to his new boss 10 days later.
“I met with my guys at IndieWhip today and they seem to be very excited about this job,” he wrote in a Feb. 25 email.
He added, “I think it would be a good idea to go ahead and tell Havas that we are going to go with IndieWhip over their recommendation.”
The chief marketing officer at the time, Betsy Wall, emailed the agency’s president, Darin Early, about Cormier’s recommendation the next day, to request approval for Havas to retain IndieWhip.
On March 1, Early signed off on it and Havas emailed IndieWhip to say the Commerce Corporation indicated that it wanted the company to produce the video.
Cormier said on Wednesday that he did not recommend IndieWhip because he used to work there.
He said the designer the public relations firm chose was not as qualified and didn’t have as much relevant experience or work, so he recommended IndieWhip.
When asked last month about Cormier’s position there, IndieWhip replied on Twitter, “People can work at different places in their careers. We’re glad he stayed in Rhode Island, rather than NYC or Boston.”
When asked for comment Thursday, an IndieWhip executive referred to a statement from last month about the tourism campaign, which doesn’t address Cormier.
The company’s video proposal, which was included in the documents, said the video will “serve to improve local morale and make Rhode Islanders proud.” It cost $22,000 to produce, according to an invoice.
The marketing officer, Wall, resigned because of the mistakes.
When asked if Cormier’s involvement was a conflict of interest, Commerce Corporation spokeswoman Kayla Rosen said Thursday that the agency continues to identify lessons learned from this situation and review its policies.
Associated Press writer Amy Anthony contributed to this report.
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