HEADS UP! The province of Prince Edward Island is in the process of trying to figure out who they are, who they want to be, and how to tell the world once they decide. (Hint: P.E.I. is an island!) They are currently on a rebranding mission, which, oddly enough start- ed from an announcement in the 2012 Budget Speech. It said in part: “Finally, in partnership with post-secondary institutions, we will establish a task force to ensure that Islanders are receiving the skills and knowledge to strengthen the Island’s labour force and improve our competitiveness. In addition, this group will examine ways to attract and retain students from across Canada and internationally, so that our institutions can remain sustainable and build Prince Edward Island into a post-secondary destination.” Susan MacKenzie, director of post-secondary and continuing education with the Department of Innovation and Advanced Learning says, “It was felt that a brand strategy could play a role in attracting and retaining students, although Task Groups had already been carrying out the ground-level work of the Task Force.” One of these groups was the Brand Task Group. This group was originally concerned with P.E.I. as an education destination, but the focus broadened to include the assessment and development of an overall P.E.I. brand, an education destination sub- brand, and a tourism brand review.
The Task Group includes a represent- ative from each of the province’s three publicly-funded institutions (UPEI, Holland College, Collège Acadie), the Department of Tourism and Culture, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, Innovation P.E.I., and representatives of the Department of Innovation and Advanced Learning.
Asked about challenges, MacKenzie says, “One is related to buy-in. Many have an opinion on a P.E.I. brand. This can be mitigated against, to a certain extent, by including stakeholder con- sultation as part of the process.” But buy-in related to the concept of having an overall ‘one size fits all’ brand is also proving to be a challenge. “This implies finding something that is common to all P.E.I. sectors. But the profile and promise of this initiative is exciting, and working with the Task Group, stake-holders, and the agency to pursue this goal has also been very satisfying.” (The agency MacKenzie is referring to is m5, a regional ad agency with a mile-long pedigree.)
Although it’s too soon in the game to determine the outcome, one of the high- lights of the process to date for MacKenzie was the Stakeholder Summit. “It was thought-provoking and construct- ive. The conversations during the break-out sessions were, at times, surprisingly candid. A wide array of opinions was expressed about the province’s assets and challenges.” MacKenzie says that one may have expected to hear comments on the natural beauty of the province, ” … and we did, of course. Yet, we also heard that we are small and unique in a very positive way. Some participants expressed that we should stay small and be an even better version of who we are now.”
This whole rebranding strategy did not come as a surprise to Brenda Gallant, director of marketing for Tourism P.E.I. At the time the Task Group was being created, Tourism P.E.I. was already reviewing its marketing strategy and had decided it was time to do a brand review to see if its current brand was still relevant. This included taking a look at everything from brand positioning, to brand voice, brand characteristics, logo, tagline – ad infinitum. The timing could not have been better.
Gallant adds, “In today’s highly competitive tourism market, [our] brand is the foundation of our marketing campaigns and must speak effectively to our target audiences. Though extensive work had been done on the brand back in 2005 (most often referred to as Gentle Island of Rejuvenation), we felt it was important to evaluate its relevance eight years later.”
The challenge for Gallant and the task force is not to prejudge the outcome. She adds that they may discover that the brand doesn’t need to change, or perhaps it merely needs a tweak here and there. On the other hand, it may be time to head in a totally new direction.
Undoubtedly questions are tossed about like ping pongs such as, “Do we need a tag line?” “Is the image ‘Gentle Island’ redundant?” That moniker may resonate with big city folks from the U.S. who yearn to get away from the heat, smog, traffic jams and road rage, but does that have the same appeal for folks living in rural New Brunswick?
Tracey Cutcliffe, senior VP with m5 is enthusiastic about the project. One thing that impresses her is the number of people engaged in the process. “This high level of involvement is a really good thing, and makes it clear to us that we need to develop something extremely compelling.”
Cutcliffe adds, “Whether we are talking about P.E.I. as an exporter of products, as an educational destination, as a place to work, or a place to visit, we know that this province has the goods. P.E.I. is authentic and genuine and a truly amazing island. We won’t be shying away from that.”
The m5 VP is also impressed by the number of stakeholders who’ve shared personal stories of people they’ve met who were captivated by the island once they experienced it – including tourists, students, colleagues, and business people. “Time and again we heard anecdotes of people who returned repeatedly, or even relocated to P.E.I. after they had the chance to visit for the first time,” Cutcliffe says. “It really is a special place.”
It brings to mind the chorus in the newly minted theme song for the upcoming 2014 celebrations: “We were, we are, we will be, Prince Edward Island – forever strong!” That seems to send a message loud and clear. But the world will have to wait until early in the new year to hear the outcome.
Cutcliffe tucks in, “Stay tuned. It takes time to develop this sort of thing, but it’s going to be very exciting!”