CLEARWATER – What a difference a week can make. Until last week, it seemed that the hiring of North Star Destination Strategies to study people’s impression of Clearwater and change any unfavorable perceptions through a process called “branding” was virtually a done deal.
After all, a panel of city staffers had vetted prospective companies and decided that North Star was best for the job, North Star spokesman Don McCann had made a favorable impression on the Clearwater City Council at its July 14 work session, and the council had put the contract on its consent agenda of items likely to receive rubber-stamp approval, without further discussion, at the council’s July 17 meeting.
But everything changed when Vice Mayor Doreen Hock-DiPolito read an article in Business Observer magazine about a “branding” job that North Star had done for the city of Enterprise, Florida.
“It’s very male-oriented and does a disservice to women who own businesses,” Hock-DiPolito, who runs her family’s construction business when she’s not helping to run the city of Clearwater, said of North Star’s branding of Enterprise.
If that wasn’t bad enough, she said, North Star had created a logo for Enterprise that had the word “Florida” all in green except for the letter “i,” which was in the shape of a man’s necktie. The logo is accompanied by the phrase “The perfect climate for business.”
“Perhaps we need to look at local branding businesses to do this,” Hock-DiPolito said as she asked her city council colleagues to pull the North Star contract off the consent agenda of the council’s July 17 meeting so that it could be discussed fully. “I’m just not willing to spend $100,000 on this firm.”
“The (selection) committee did consider several local firms, none of which were any cheaper” than North Star, said Assistant City Manager Jill Silverboard, who served on that committee.
“I struggle about giving priority to local firms” because they might not be the best firms, Mayor George Cretekos said.
Hock-DiPolito replied that she isn’t as concerned about the fact that North Star is based in Nashville as she is about the company’s apparent sexist attitude toward women.
Joelle Castelli, who is Clearwater’s Director of Public Communications and served on the selection committee that recommended the hiring of North Star, said she believes that North Star may have outsourced the logo that offended Hock-DiPolito, instead of creating it in-house, although she wasn’t sure.
“I wear a tie all the time and was taken aback” by the logo, Mayor Cretekos said.
“This is obviously a black eye” for North Star, Councilmember Hoyt Hamilton said of the logo fiasco, but the company shouldn’t be judged too harshly because everybody gets a black eye once in a while.
“I look at the entire body of work by North Star, not just this one instance,” Hamilton said.
As far as neckties go, Hamilton said, he has his own philosophy that works for both men and women.
“If you need to wear a tie to do business, you don’t know how to do business,” Hamilton said. “I would rather see the ‘i’ in ‘Florida’ be a palm tree or something.”
In the end, the council postponed a decision until Aug. 7 so the matter can be studied further.