Can (Should) Arizona Rebrand Itself?

Let me set the stage in case you are unaware of the events.  This is certainly not intended to be a definitive accounting of the pros and cons of Arizona’s new immigration law.  It is simply intended to provide some background for context.

  • Arizona passes a law (SB 1070) to address the challenges of illegal immigration in their state.  The new law is supported by a majority of Arizona residents.
  • President O’Bama weighs in and seeks a bipartisan national solution.
  • President O’Bama responds more strongly and raises concerns the law may divide the nation.
  • President of Mexico weighs in with criticism of the new Arizona law.
  • Arizona Governor defends the law and challenges White House to address illegal immigration.
  • The Arizona press tries to educate the public by publishing the full text of SB 1070 so people can more easily get access to it.
  • Americans have mixed reactions to the Arizona law including travel boycotts.
  • Arizona Governor seeks to rebrand the state in order to refurbish tarnished state brand image.
  • The rebranding effort begins.

Core question: Is rebranding the solution to Arizona’s challenge?

Consider This:

  • A brand is a promise.  It sets an expectation of what the experience will be like if you engage with the product, corporation, community or state.
  • To be effective, a brand promise must be relevant, competitive and authentic.
  • Brands take time and money to establish.
  • Public relations crisis management is a proven strategy to handle difficult image challenges.

My Potential Concerns:

There is no doubt Arizona’s actions are under scrutiny by both the American and International communities.   But, is it time for the state to walk away from the equity that has invested in establishing over decades?

Based on an Arizona Travel and Tourism branding guide, Arizona (also know as the Grand Canyon State) can be described by four attributes:

  1. Unexpectedly Exhilarating Signature Scenery
  2. Rejuvenating Open-Air Lifestyle
  3. Timeless Discoveries
  4. Vibrant Variety

Do a Google search using the terms “perception of Arizona” brand, to find the report.

In my opinion, none of the core attributes that define Arizona appear to be relevant to the current controversy.   If these are indeed the differentiating attributes of the state, does it make sense to walk away from them in an attempt to redefine itself and try to make a new promise that will redefine the state image?

Next question: Is Public Relations Crisis Management a better solution?

Let’s start with a definition of what crisis management is all about.  A crisis is defined in an Institute for Public Relations document as “a significant threat to operations that can have negative consequences if not handled properly”.  The author makes the point that “A crisis can create three related threats:  (1) public safety, (2) financial loss, and (3) reputation loss”.

There are a number of crisis examples that can be instructional –

Cyanide laced Tylenol

Exxon Valdez oil spill

Wendy’s Chili Hoaxer

Northern Illinois University Campus Shooting

In each of these cases, the companies faced significant business risk and had to manage the challenges effectively.

Does Arizona need Rebranding or Public Relations Crisis Management?

The question is not simply a matter of semantics.  For example, the experts you hire could be very different depending on the choice you make.  Great branding agencies are not necessarily great at public relations and visa versa.  The skill sets, knowledge and resources required for successful implementation of each strategy are very different. The time horizons are different for each choice.  The budgets required are based on the work and will also not be the same.

Which Strategy Do You Think Arizona Should Choose?

Share your thinking and experience.  The intent of asking the question is not to influence Governor Brewer’s decision.  I am confident her decision will be made with the input of experts who are thoroughly familiar with the details of the situation.  The intent is for us to learn from each other how to make these types of decisions if our communities are ever faced with an analogous challenge.

Leave a comment on this post.  Your perspective adds to the educational experience and will help advance the practical understanding of this topic. If you are a Facebook user, become a fan.  If you are on LinkedIn, join the Group.  If you are on Twitter, please tweet about this blog post and start following Brand America.

I look forward to reading your thoughts.

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25 Comments so far

  1. Kathy Obert

    May 25, 2010

    Our definition of a reputation crisis is anything that causes an organization to take one’s eye ‘off the ball.’ What is happening in Arizona clearly qualifies. A reputation challenge ONLY becomes a brand challenge, however, when the facts at hand negatively impact the public’s perception of the brand promise. In this case, the controversy at hand has nothing to do with those key brand attributes described by the Arizona Travel & Tourism Department:

    1. Unexpectedly Exhilarating Signature Scenery
    2. Rejuvenating Open-Air Lifestyle
    3. Timeless Discoveries
    4. Vibrant Variety

    So, my vote is that re-branding is not the appropriate prescription to cure Arizona’s ills, but rather, the tenets of good crisis communications programming would be a better aid.

    Kathy Obert
    Managing Director

  2. Diedra Freedman

    May 26, 2010

    As long as AZ public policy provides a total quality of life so out of step with that favored by most people in America (see, this is just one of many situations that needs to be public relations crisis managed now and for the forseeable future until Arizonans vote the current AZ idealogue policymakers out of office. AZ will remain a great place (or maybe not depending upon the enforcement of SB1070) to visit, but not a great place to live. No matter how hard you try, you can’t change the product with branding (either place branding or tourism branding as is currently favored by AZ). As long as current AZ public policy remains the status quo, AZ will do best to rely on public relations crisis management to minimize the damage to tourism, its remaining primary industry. Governor Brewer’s current branding effort is a waste of very scarce taxpayer dollars.

  3. Andrew Levine

    May 27, 2010

    Two points to share:

    1) Place brands are built by what others say about your community — not what you say about yourself. I don’t know the specifics of Arizona’s rebranding effort. But if it about logos, taglines, brochures, websites or advertising, it’s headed in the wrong direction. Effective place branding is all about credible third parties favorably discussing your community. Silicon Valley, the Research Triangle and Austin are terrific examples of powerful “place” brands built in this fashion.

    2) Arizona is getting “slammed” right now in the national media. And difficult as it may be, they should be actively engaging with journalists and telling their side of the story. It’s not time to circle the wagons — it’s time for Governor Brewer to speak up and effectively communicate her point of view.

    Will the stories turn from negative to positive? No. But by actively engaging in an intelligent fashion, a more balanced picture of the state will be presented.

    Thanks for starting the debate, Ed. Look forward to comments by others and especially Arizona’s economic development community.

  4. Michael K. Conley

    May 27, 2010

    The media is the enemy in this situation it has established a poor reputation for Arizona, continually talking about how unsafe it is and the state of the economy. Arizona needs a slogan, a saying that all it’s residents could quote and be part of, something that is a solution. Much like “Don’t Mess With Texas” . Something like “Arizona the Legal Paradise”.

  5. James Renzas

    May 27, 2010

    I think that the bigger risk for Arizona is that the “Papers Please” effort is (a) it’s sending a decidely anti-hispanic message to foreign investors (who have a lot of money to invest right now) and (b) companies considering relocation from places like California often have minorities in decision-making positions in management. This law may send a message that AZ is not as welcoming to other cultures as other locational alternatives may be, and (c) a large part of the AZ workforce is of hispanic origin. If this law forces these workers to move to other parts of the U.S. or even back to their own countries, it will result in a smaller labor pool to draw from, which will push up wage rates and thus, make the state less competitive from a business cost perspective. Just some things to think about – I have no official position on the law itself, but i do hope that the Lakers beat the Suns

  6. Ted Weeks

    May 27, 2010

    While I don’t think it’s necessary, I do think they should rebrand themselves as an American state. Their law is essentially America’s immigration law, only enforced. I don’t think that anyone has a problem with people who come to the country legally to make themselves a better life. Coming in illegally and expecting the current taxpayers of the state / nation to fund that better life is what people have a problem with.

    As a product of Southern California, I have experienced the negatives associated with illegal immigration. Throughout my years at in school, my schools were overrun with illegal immigrants & their children, essentially my parents payed for a very subpar education for myself because there was so many people in schools who’s parents & family did not pay for their education. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t mind if the children came to learn & make themselves better but the fact is that many / most of them did not. They were the trouble makers, class disrupters and eventually ones who either dropped out, got into gangs or sold drugs (stop before you call me a racist, I experienced this first hand and have many friends of latino heritage, many of whom I’m sure came from illegal parents).

    San Diego County pays about $250m a year to house, feed, treat medically and feed illegal immigrants & their children. That’s about $1000 per person per year for every resident of San Diego County.

    What does this have to do with Arizona? Everything. They’re standing up for their state & nation. America is America, not Mexico North. We are a nation of immigrants but our forefathers all / mostly came here legally and assimilated to become a contributing factor to the nation. Many illegal immigrants never bother to learn the language, don’t speak or bother to even learn the language at home and live off the system (whether directly or indirectly) for the remainder of their lives. Arizona merely is standing up for itself saying enough is enough.

    The press will never say this, they’re too busy overhyping how wrong a totally legal law is, a law which the people of Arizona voted in. Obama won’t do anything either way about it. Sure he’ll speak down on the law to rally the latino vote but he knows that the vast majority of Arizona and America in general agree with the bill, at least in theory.

    I look forward to their rebranding. I commend the state for standing up for itself, it’s time that someone did.

  7. Guillermo Mazier

    May 27, 2010

    Great post. Being from Arizona I can understand why the Governor feels the need to take action (i.e. re-branding the state). However, in my opinion, Arizona re-branding itself would be a mistake. An effective brand, as you well know, relays a relevant and authentic promise. Suffice to say – Arizona, nobody likes empty promises.

  8. Peter Timpone

    May 27, 2010

    First, I don’t agree with that is happening down there.

    I am not sure a rebranding would help, you may change the color, shape, design of the package but it is still the same inside… What Arizona needs to do is create a dialogue with a PR campaign. The issues in Arizona need to be talked through, I just don’t think you can do that with rebranding.

  9. Kevin O'Meara

    May 28, 2010


    Great topic. Clearly, this is a PR crisis. Perhaps that includes describing their PR plan as ‘Rebranding’. Rebranding sounds nice, PR sounds like spin.

  10. dave

    May 30, 2010

    Arizona DID rebrand itself with this law – Many Americans respect this action.

  11. Jim Kappler

    May 31, 2010


    How do you rebrand in the midst of a conflict?

    It appears that Arizona is already being rebranded, especially from those outside its borders. Until the new law plays out, can AZ establish even control its own brand?

    One one hand, some are sympathetic to foreign nationals residing there. On the other hand, this is a start contrast to reports of drug related violence and illegal drug farms that exists there, and other places.

    I moved to South Carolina several years ago. An issue here, complete with NAACP boycott, is the flying of the Confederate flag on the state Capitol grounds. In both cases, it is a conflict over culture and will not be resolved for years, if ever.

  12. Here’s my take for an Arizona Re-Brand:

    1. Find the positive within the negative by digging deep within the ‘cultural collision’ – because that’s where the big brand idea is usually hidden.

    2. Modern Arizona has been forged by three great cultures: Native Americans, Anglo-Americans and Hispanics (Spanish and not necessarily the new Mexican).

    3. Is there a future for this fourth great culture – Mexican – to add to the ‘melting pot’ – and move Arizona from its heritage – ‘Wild West’ – to lead America to a future-focused ‘New West’.

    4. As Arizona is so strongly branded as ‘The Grand Canyon State’ and since there is so much ’emotion’ – negative and positive – Arizona should bring on its sub-brands – starting with its capital – Phoenix AZ – to lead with the ‘New West’ re-brand.

  13. Harry A. Eadon Jr.

    June 1, 2010

    AZ doesn’t have an image problem. Bottom line is the law is bad and will probably be found to be unconstitutional. There are already laws that can be used to combat the spread of illegal drug activities and its inherent violence.

    I pray that Arizona’s citizens make sense of the issue, soon.

  14. ToshibaBob

    June 1, 2010

    Assuming there IS a CRISIS ….if may not have been generated by this state’s legislation …..but rather by the zealots opposing the concept of a secure border … might be suggested that Arizonia do nothing …not adding fuel to the fire of this ASSUMED crisis….. or they may continiously point out that their interputation of the immigration laws of the U. S. ….are LESS RESTRICTIVE…. than the current established law of the LAND

  15. Greg Strosaker

    June 2, 2010

    Without passing judgment on whether or not SB 1070 is good policy, it is clear that Arizona’s brand (established to attract tourists) is a separate manner from this policy (mostly impacting potential residents and businesses). I don’t know if Arizona has a separate brand message for the latter; if so, that should be the focus of the rebranding effort, not the tourist-oriented one.

    The comment above stating that customers control your brand is true to an extent but also a bit defeatist – if that is the case, then branding is a worthless endeavor. We know (or at least hope) that not to be true, so it does not serve as an excuse not to act. I do like the idea of rebranding (on the resident/business front) as part of the “New West”, turning diversity to a strength – but not immediately in the face of this crisis, as it will look artificial and inconsistent with ongoing actions.

  16. Jim Matorin

    June 3, 2010


    Your four points as they relate to what a brand stands for are very relevant to what we are experiencing in Arizona. Whether the law sticks or is over ruled, the authenticity factor is a harbinger of what is coming here in America. Once a great melting pot, now evolving to a very divided, paranoid country. It will go deeper than illegal immigrants. As you indicated, brands take time. Our image is slowly changing in the eyes of the world, especially as the economic playing field is becoming more level.

  17. Ed Roach

    June 3, 2010


    I agree with many of the opinions in this discussion. Arizona has to fix the issue first then a “re-branding” initiative will have something to bite into. If they choose to ignore the problem and forge ahead with a huge marketing buy, I fear that they are wasting tax dollars, (another negative).

    It reminds me of my favorite description of this type of problem/solution – “putting lipstick on a pig!” Like most politicians, they want a fast solution or at the very least appear to be solving the problem.

    If the law isn’t to be repealed, then they have a new reality to embrace. I think the effort will have to be more PR than anything else to address new priorities. Over time it will be up to individuals whether or not Arizona has a compelling case. It is up to the state and it’s citizens to judge if the price is worth it.

    My guess is the law will be softened and then it’s marketing can branch from a conciliatory tone. To do otherwise, it will, I fear continue to be the butt of jokes for a good many years to come. Re-branding under those terms just fuels the fire – such a wasted effort.

  18. Shelley Rosen

    June 3, 2010

    Ed, Thank you for articualting the situation on Arizona and framing the question. It seems like Arizona has two problems; mangaging a crisis and fixing their border control operation. Based on the decisions they made and how they handled the media they are in crisis. I would say that the crisis is worse then BP’s. BP had and accident and are trying to fix the problem with thousands of leading scientist. Arizona is stepping into a territory on humanity and rigths; one very sensitive subject. She needs PR help but not until she fixes her operation. Why is Arizona failing on border control issues when California and Texas do nto seem to have the problem. What are her procedures? Does she have the right leadership to address the right process? Until she fixes the compliance on the border she can’t fix the brand.

    Now, does and will she need a new brand promise? Yes, but… A brand is a promise, not a quippy ad or a set of words that are meant to hang on a wall. First she needs to create an operation with the right procedures at the border and make a promsie to the tax payers of Arizona to uphold the policy for thier sake. She also needs to create a set of key messages starting from her belief and her new policy and be consistent. A written apology would be nice.

    People who lead and manage brands know it is hard work. The folks at Walt Disney World don’t say, “sometimes and only on Tuesday will WDW be a happy place.” It’s every day all the time happy. In America, the land of the free, we welcome all people, with the right process and paperwork. It’s what make the fabric of this country. Fix the operation first, apologize and then create brand stories that put Arizona back on the map as a place people want to visit.

  19. Kim Ratcliff

    June 4, 2010


    First off, I can see both sides of the issue for Arizona. Border control is a serious issue for them, and without having a confident protection in place from the federal government, the state had a right to take matters into their own hands. Unfortunately for Arizona, they did not take control of the message as the law was being hatched, and as a result they’re suffering mightily due to misperceptions about their intentions with the new immigration law. Bottom line, I am not a supporter of the law, but digging into the details it’s clear that the state did not have bad intentions with this. In fact, I think they were well meaning.

    I believe that this situation requires BOTH crisis management and rebranding. Crisis management needs to be tenaciously executed during the coming months — and probably years — in order to put out the fire. Concurrently, and beyond the most intense stages of crisis management, rebranding should occur.

    The disciplines of public relations and marketing can and should operate in tandem here. Both should be overseen by a team that understands the strategic complexities of the situation and how best to deploy tactical resources to win.

    Thanks for the active discussion, everyone, and the chance to comment.

  20. Quang Nguyen

    June 4, 2010

    Thank you for the invitation, Ed.

    As a brand manager and an Arizonan, I always thought Arizona had a weak brand to start with. From the tourism stand point, we’re not just about the Grand Canyon and not every place is 195 degrees in the summer. A better tourism program is badly needed here.

    From the business stand point… We failed to capture businesses that are running away from heavily taxed California companies. I don’t think the state, counties, and local communities created enough incentives to lure these companies. Too many have settle in Texas.

    SB1070… I don’t think this is an issue at all. In my line of work, perception is reality, and the reality is an overwhelming number of Americans (68%) support SB1070, including 70% of Arizonans supporting. It is true that Arizona needs to fix the many problems she is facing and she is doing so with or without the feds.

    My conclusion is that Arizona needs to rebrand, but not from her political perception.

  21. Tonya Britton

    June 4, 2010

    I agree with Kathy Obert’s assessment and see this as a crisis management issue, but it’s a problem that is larger than Arizona. Illegal immigration, human rights and border control are national security and socio-economic issues that the federal government should be addressing, but isn’t. Therefeore this one state has taken it upon itself to step up to the plate, but is obviously failing miserably, both functionally, and in the court of public opinion. Unfortunately, there are some things that PR and marketing just cannot fix and this is one of them.

    I think Shelly mentioned that Texas and California seem not to be having these same problems. Although I can’t speak for our western brethren, as a Houstonian, I can assure you, we are deep in it too. With drug lords, mules, human traffickers, kidnappers and more pouring across the borders, crime south of Houston and west of San Antonio is skyrocketing, businesses are closing, tourism is decreasing, physicians, pharmacies and other healthcare providers are refusing to service the region, and even NGO mission trips (i.e. digging wells, rehabilitating homes, etc.) are lessinging by the day. We are in crisis and the rest of the country just doesn’t see it.

    Perhaps the difference for Texas is that, having experienced the Minutemen movement and the PR nightmare that ensued, our government understands the need to step lightly were public perception is concerned. And of course, thanks to NAFTA, with our state being a major transportation conduit to the rest of the country and our economic ties to Mexico, our legislators lack the political will to ride rough when weighing in on these issues.

  22. Six Degrees

    June 4, 2010

    As an Arizona-based branding agency, we can emphatically state that the last thing Arizona needs right now is an attempt to rebrand itself. Our brand is about climate, environmental beauty and lifestyle. Rebranding is neither a relevant nor a credible response to the uproar caused by SB1070.

    Neither is crisis management an appropriate response. In fact, we would argue, passage of SB1070 was an attempt at crisis management: The crisis brought on by an unmanaged national border.

    In our opinion, the most appropriate response from Arizona government is INFORMATION. The AZ State Government needs to tell the world that SB1070 was the only course of action it had left to force the federal government to deal with the massive problems associated with our unmanaged national border. After years of pursuing all other avenues to get the feds to live up to their responsibility for managing the border legally and effectively, Arizona, with a massive budget deficit of its own, could no longer afford to pay for the enormous consequences of an unmanaged national border.

    Accordingly, AZ needed to find a way to get the federal government to finally step up to the plate. Seems to us, that part has a chance of working. Surely no rational person could believe that Arizona could unilaterally and effectively manage a national border through SB1070, particularly when its borders to California and New Mexico are wide open.

  23. Stefan Liute

    June 7, 2010

    For the last two decades, my country has tried to tackle its image deficit inside and outside its borders. I can tell from a rather painful and never-ending experience that no durable gains can be achieved through marketing/communications efforts alone. So, in Arizona’s case, I think the first concern is the regulatory landscape. Unfortunately, how it’s shaped is not only the state’s concern, but also Washington’s. Therefore, whether Arizona likes it or not, the federal government is always going to be involved in shaping its public perception on the issue of immigration.

    And no matter how the regulations end up looking, it’s critical for the Arizonans–for they are the state, before anything else–to stand up and voice their support, if said support broadly exists.

  24. Varad Kamini

    June 13, 2010

    I am in concurrence with Kathy Obert’s observation that the controversy at hand has nothing to do with the key brand attributes (as described by the Arizona Travel and Tourism Department).

    Since, the current state of affairs in AZ has nothing to do with branding, re-branding cannot be considered as a plausible option to combat this crisis situation.

    What it requires is, a well though-out PR cum Crisis Communications strategy, with an objective to establish dialogue with its stakeholders. The communication must focus on addressing the key areas of concern of the affected community. Furthermore, wherever possible, try and catapult the negative comments into positive remarks. It could be truly challenging, but if the bill is there to stay, there isn’t much that can be done!!

  25. Marcus Osborne

    June 26, 2010

    Firstly, “Does Arizona need Rebranding or Public Relations Crisis Management?” is the wrong question to ask because you are confusing the issue by asking a question that doesn’t make sense.

    PR at whatever level, is an important component of a brand strategy but it is only one element and cannot, on its own, drive or build a brand.

    The four attributes outlined in the Arizona Travel and Tourism branding guide seemed geared towards tourism (predictably) but Branding a state is not simply a tourism exercise. After all, although I don’t have much information, I doubt the immigration issue is a tourism issue.

    A brand strategy should involve tourism (and in most cases can be driven by tourism) but it should involve other stakeholders as well. I wrote a ‘How to brand a city’ article here these rules can be applied to a state as well. (Apologies for the shameless self promotion).

    If Arizona has a brand strategy, those responsible for the strategy should have been consulted when the law to address the challenges of illegal immigration was being drafted and then given a mandate to develop a comprehensive and integrated communications campaign, including PR but also other channels such as Social Media to explain the law.

    Unfortunately the state is now on the back foot as it tries to address issues raised over what is always, but even more so now a contentious issue.

    May I recommend you contact this company for help.

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