How did the Regina rebrand go so wrong?

Group chat messages showed that federal employees with Prairies Economic Development Canada were relieved that their department had nothing to do with this year’s disastrous City of Regina rebrand, which played off the fact that the city’s name rhymes with “vagina.”

According to a new Canadian Press report, based on messages obtained under Freedom of Information law, federal employees expressed amazement that the infamous Tourism Regina advertising campaign, which included the phrases “the city that rhymes with fun” and “show us your Regina,” was allowed to proceed.

According to the report, employees were baffled by the fact nobody put a stop to the campaign, which made headlines around the world and ultimately led the city’s tourism authority to commission an independent review.

““You know it is bad when it is in a New York paper and is ahead of anything on Trump,” said one employee.”There were so many people involved in choosing that. How did no one stop it?,” wrote another. Another theorized that an all-male “old boys club” was behind the effort.

The disclosure of the messages comes just two weeks after the Regina Exhibition Association Ltd. (REAL), the entity responsible for Tourism Regina, released the findings of the independent review examining the rebranding effort—referred to throughout the report as the “Incident”—by George B. Cuff & Associates.

The review concluded that the sexualized phrases were ultimately green-lit by a junior REAL employee “without reference to their supervisor,” but said that a combination of “a lack of managerial oversight, loose procedures, inadequate policy guidance, and unavailable senior staff who were knowledgeable about what was expected” all contributed to the controversial phrases making it into the public realm.

The study concluded that the “Incident” likely could not have been anticipated, but noted that “while there were undoubtably extenuating factors which impacted how the release of unapproved slogans occurred, the lack of adequate supervision was certainly among them.”

The backstory of the campaign, the report concluded, was a decision by Regina City Council to transfer responsibility for Regina Tourism from Economic Development Regina to REAL in the belief that it would be better positioned to “gain traction” and give it “more energy and visibility.”

The report said that at the conclusion of the switchover, “someone took it upon themselves to greenlight the addition of what were at best considered ‘draft slogans’ onto the new website,” resulting in an “almost immediate” public outcry.

It also referenced a 2022 tourism business plan noting that the city’s marketing efforts would be focused around the following strategic initiative: “Develop local and external marketing strategies for 2022/23 that will make Regina sexy.”

“While this may have been a worthwhile goal, it is evident that it was not endorsed as a priority inside [Economic Development Regina] or by the city,” it said.

According to the report’s timeline of events, a plan to rebrand under “Experience Regina” was formally adopted, and an RFP for brand positioning and support was issued in September. The rebranding was pursued, although various stakeholders were not shown the “sexualized” content.

In a Dec. 8 meeting, it was determined that Tourism Regina would become Experience Regina; once again, no mention was made of the sexualized slogans. In a Dec. 13 meeting, a variety of slogans—including the sexualized terms—were considered. The slogans were meant to be further refined and returned for a final review in February.

Work progressed early in the year, with presentations made to local groups including the Regina Hotels Association. The proposed brand launch received support, although again, no mention was made of the sexualized slogans, although other slogans including “Anything but flat” and “Do it in Regina” were discussed.

The slogans were ultimately posted to the website on March 16, and widely discussed across social media the next day. “[T]he good feelings created on the afternoon of the launch had quickly evaporated,” said the report.

While the study concluded that the “Incident” likely could not have been anticipated, the Regina Leader-Post last week posted a story questioning Cuff’s findings, suggesting that the junior staffer was used as a “patsy,” and that Cuff did nothing to explore whether a sexist workplace culture led to the slogans being published.

“There’s a broader cultural element to it,” Regina councillor Dan LeBlanc told the Leader-Post. “In my mind, it focused too much on sort of how the particular sexist slogans got approved to be on the website, rather than how it is that those slogans could get batted around various board meeting rooms,” he said, adding that he thought the report should have “interrogated whether, or how, there’s a sexist, or silent culture in those rooms.”

And Jacq Brasseur, a consultant specializing in non-profit governance, pointed out that the words “sexism” or “misogyny,” are entirely absent from the report.

Chris Powell