Posted on 22 June 2015.
[Updated 5:04 p.m. June 22, 2015—see boldface below]
Bainbridge Island resident Nicole Oliver has launched a petition requesting that the City of Bainbridge Island (COBI) terminate its current branding effort with the firm Arnett Muldrow & Associates and instead seek local input. As of this afternoon over 300 people had signed the petition, citing displeasure with the designs presented thus far and disappointment with COBI’s decision to hire a firm from South Carolina rather than seek local talent.
In the text of the petition Oliver said Arnett Muldrow is out of step with Bainbridge culture and calls the city’s choice not to invite award-winning local designers into the branding process “a terrible mistake.” She said, “My vote at this point is to toss the current design effort, ending the city’s relationship with Arnett Muldrow, and reboot with a focus on local input and creativity with an attempt to create an open, transparent, and inclusive process. Let’s involve the local designers, artists, and children of the island.”
Oliver told IB she initiated the petition because she knows “a lot of people share these feelings but won’t go so far as to write their own letter to the city. I wanted to give those people a voice in this process by creating a petition.”
In fact, many people have written letters to COBI, expressing nothing short of vehement disapproval of the direction of the branding process, and not without humor.
Former Amazon and Aldus executive and long-time Bainbridge resident Colleen Byrum said the branding tagline naturally defined, closely connected “sounds like a tagline for a push up bra.” Christina Doherty called it “as cliche, campy, vapid, and face-palm-obvious as it comes. Why not brand vanilla ice cream cold and sweet just so we’re all clear on its characteristics?”
With a more serious tone, Byrum said in her letter to COBI: “It’s awfully important to know what you don’t know. COBI has zero expertise in branding—and that’s as it should be. Marketing is not a core competency of running a city. However, there are world-class design and marketing professionals living in our community, many of whom would cheerfully agree to participate in the branding process, either leading the effort on behalf of the city, or helping to frame an application process for subsequent submissions by other island design professionals. Please consider other options beyond the confused and weak offering submitted by Arnett Muldrow.”
Jeff Fraga, who has over 30 years in marketing communications and advertising, including branding and tagline work, also contacted the city with frustration over the branding project. He said, “The idea that the city would select a firm in South Carolina without even going through the RFP process or making an attempt to use local talent (and by ‘local’ I’m including the world-class branding firms in Seattle, many of which have employees who live on Bainbridge) is very disappointing. We are continually exhorted to ‘buy local,’ but apparently it’s okay for the city to spend city money (i.e., our money) to hire a firm from all the way across the country who obviously does not ‘get’ Bainbridge Island.”
Matt Fick said he is not a designer or the community naysayer type, but he felt compelled to write the city because he thought Arnett Muldrow’s logo designs and tagline were “terrible.” He expressed the sentiment of many that COBI should start over with someone new, regardless of the cost of Arnett Muldrow, whom he described as good at positioning themselves as ‘community branding specialists’ without the talent to back it up.
A professional photographer who has worked extensively with graphic designers and marketing experts, Paul Sanders echoed Fick: “Arnett Muldrow has managed to snow a whole lot of people—the product on their website is, at best, lackluster and banal.” He too asked the City why it had not sought input from the large pool of local “world-class professionals” and urged them to fire Arnett Muldrow and start over.
In her letter to the City, Paula Elliot asked, “How loud do we have to yell before you take us seriously? I know a lot of people on the Island, and they know a lot of people, and NOBODY we know supports even the IDEA of hiring an out-of state consulting firm (snort) to do “branding” for Bainbridge Island.”
The medieval battle axes, which COBI Communications Specialist Kellie Stickney said are off the table, incited the most outrage, about which now perhaps enough has been said.
Downtown Association head Jerri Lane posted a link to the petition on her Facebook timeline this morning. She was not immediately available for comment as to whether she supports the petition.
According to the South Carolina Secretary of State’s office, Arnett Muldrow has been in forfeiture since August of 2014. Privacy law prevents the Department of Revenue from releasing details about the forfeiture status. When we inquired about the forfeiture, the Muldrow office said it was a small matter that they were working out. They said it was a “fair question” but declined to comment in more detail. The company has worked with numerous cities in Washington, and it opened a small Seattle office in March. According to the Secretary of State of Washington, Arnett Muldrow is in good standing in Washington.
UPDATE: Jerri Lane contacted IB late this afternoon to explain that she had not intended to post a link to the petition on her personal Facebook page. She said she supports the branding effort and does not support the petition. She regretted the confusion, explaining that she is a Facebook “rookie” and plans to remove the post from her page.
Photo courtesy of Anne Worner.