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Team Up

Talk about mixed messages. In the same June 5 announcement that touted a $26.5 million economic-development package inked that day by Governor Bill Owens, state PR types trumpeted a deal between the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) and the Denver Newspaper Agency for "a year-long marketing program" that "includes advertising and advertorials in the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News." Despite appearances, however, the latter has almost nothing to do with the former -- a distinction that even seems to have puzzled the Post. The paper paired its June 6 coverage of the Owens signing with an OEDIT/DNA sidebar so muddled that it spawned an equally baffling correction the next day.

Such confusion isn't surprising. After all, OEDIT's current eco-devo program is dubbed "Advancing Colorado," yet the address of the department's main website is AdvanceColorado.com -- and if the folks there can't settle on something as simple as verb tense, why should they be expected to communicate comprehensibly in other areas?

Nevertheless, OEDIT communications director Stefanie Dalgar stresses that the state wants to present a consistent face to the world. "Our branding team got together and determined that the word 'Colorado' is a brand all on its own," Dalgar notes. "So they chose a font to use for the word, and now it's on everything our office does: the website for tourism [Colorado.com], the state map, the vacation guide." By the way, the winning font is called Utopia; Dalgar says it was selected for its look, "but it just happened to fit in with Colorado in other ways as well."

Of course, Dalgar and her fellow OEDIT staffers know that pretty lettering alone won't prompt visitors, entrepreneurs or businesses to pour more money into Colorado's coffers, and neither will slogans like "Fresh Air and Fond Memories Served Daily," the astonishingly feeble motto presently affixed to Colorado.com's home page. The aforementioned $26.5 million expenditure includes $19 million to hype tourism (and, with luck, produce a better catchphrase), plus much-overdue incentives to entice moviemakers to film in the state. In the meantime, OEDIT is pushing forward with plans that don't require significant outlays of taxpayer funds -- among them, partnerships with media organizations.

Predictably, the first local outlet to join hands with OEDIT was Channel 9, which has long recognized that public-service announcements and their equivalents, if handled cleverly, can produce even better results than straightforward promos. Like the pact between 9News, the City of Denver and the Daniels Fund that pays Channel 9 more than $500,000 per annum to produce a talk-to-your-kids-about-substance-abuse campaign -- the subject of last week's column -- the OEDIT/ 9News venture has a profit component. Businesses are asked to shell out for thirty-second Advancing Colorado spots that include a ten-second window in which they can insert appeals of their choosing. The idea? Sponsors get advertising advantages even as they appear to be boosting their home state; Channel 9 receives compensation for what many viewers may interpret as a do-gooder PSA; and OEDIT is able to let viewers know about Advancing Colorado without having to purchase airtime. But thus far, buyers haven't leapt at this offer. Test runs of the spots screened on Channel 9 in January, a month after Advancing Colorado's formal launch, but they're not in rotation now because, Dalgar says, "the smaller companies we were working with decided that the fit wasn't right for them. So we're waiting for larger companies to come on board."

Execs at the Denver Newspaper Agency hope they have better luck, even though the concept for their Advancing Colorado tie-in is similar to Channel 9's. As described by DNA spokesman Jim Nolan, the proposal calls for the publication in both dailies of a special Advancing Colorado section built upon profiles of local businesses willing to pony up a fee for the privilege. That will be followed by a series of regular pay-to-play ads linked to Advancing Colorado, and Nolan says, "The focus will be on companies that were born, bred or have their legacy here in Colorado."

While the DNA won't receive any state money for its efforts, the project shouldn't be interpreted as altruism. Nolan calls it "strictly a revenue opportunity." Furthermore, Tim Matthews, the DNA's marketing director, maintains that the timing and the duration of the program is dependent upon monetary factors. The agency's goal is to offer the special section "on Colorado Day, Tuesday, August 1," Matthews points out, "but if we're not successful selling the advertiser packages to a level we're comfortable with, it may be delayed." For the same reason, he's reluctant to promise that the subsequent ads will appear for a full year, as ballyhooed in the state's June 5 press release; instead, he says, the length of the promotion "depends on the advertiser participation we're able to get." To put it another way, the DNA is all for Advancing Colorado, but only if it can justify the cost of the newsprint needed to do so.

Luckily, OEDIT isn't relying entirely on media organizations to spread the news about Advancing Colorado. The office's other efforts include a squad of volunteers charged with assessing the branding efforts of Colorado communities, such as the small town of Basalt. In addition, there's loads of nifty Advancing Colorado gear available for purchase, including jackets, polo shirts, caps and plastic bracelets, which seem a bit pricey at $10 a pop -- but at least they feature the name "Colorado" in an approximation of the Utopia font.

Dalgar would love to see more residents rocking this look. "The Colorado brand isn't owned by us," she says. "It's owned by everybody in the state. That's why we're reaching out to all sorts of folks. We're open to partnering with anyone and everyone."

Unlike some of OEDIT's other messages, that one is coming through loud and clear.

Baker's dozen: The buy-in on the Denver Post's buyout offer didn't meet expectations.

As reported in these pages, the Post offered editorial types buyout and early retirement packages on April 18 in an attempt to trim its roster by 25 positions. In a June 13 e-mail to staffers, editor Greg Moore confirmed that this goal wasn't met. "We fell short of the 25 departures we were looking for," he wrote, "but thirteen people took up the two offers. We will miss all of them and plan a farewell party to send them off with all of our good wishes for the future." The exodus list includes Bill Briggs, who's written many fine stories for the Post over the years; Ed Will, a staple of the arts-and-entertainment section; two members of the paper's editorial board, Penelope Purdy and Pete Chronis; and nine other veterans of the newsprint wars (Gary Olson, Marsha Austin, Vic Vogler, John Davidson, Joe Sanchez, Jim Hughes, Jim Kirksey, John Epperson and Neil Paulson).

The folks on the way out can't be described as prominent members of the Post's star system, so most readers won't notice an immediate loss. Nevertheless, the paper's sure to take a hit when it comes to institutional knowledge, and morale remains an issue for those who are still gainfully employed. The buyout offer itself was a shot to the solar plexus, coming as it did only a few short years after Post owner Dean Singleton pledged to grow the newsroom by a hundred positions -- another objective that proved elusive. Besides, the prospect of more budget-related cuts continues to hover, as Moore acknowledged in his memo. "I am not at all sure what happens next as we try to achieve the targeted expense reductions," he noted, "but as I said before, I am aware of no plans for layoffs at this time." He added that determinations about "other belt tightening" would be made in the future, and closed with a phrase that may strike those worried about their jobs as rather ominous: "More later."

That's one pledge sure to be kept.