Pioneer Valley petitioners take aim at ‘West Mass’

Recorder Staff
Published: 2/20/2017 10:05:16 PM

An online petition is taking aim at the idea of branding the Pioneer Valley as “West Mass” — an idea promoted by two Springfield-based economic development agencies.

Launched by an East Longmeadow digital marketing and e-commerce intern, the resistance to replacing “Pioneer Valley” in regional marketing programs has been gathering steam, with 130 signers on the Change.org campaign called “Stop West Mass and keep the Pioneer Valley!”

“There is zero value to changing the name from ‘Pioneer Valley’ to ‘West Mass,’” petition initiator Dylan Pilon writes on the site. The Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts used a state grant and money from businesses to pay $80,000 to an Oklahoma agency “instead of the many, many choices right here in the PIONEER VALLEY,” the petition states.

The marketing firm decided that “Pioneer Valley” sounded too much like the frontier and didn’t tell businesses and people from outside the region where the area lies.

Mitch Anthony, a Greenfield branding consultant for more than 25 years, is among those who say the Springfield-led effort to move away from the term “Pioneer Valley” to identify the Connecticut River valley of western Massachusetts was misguided at best.

“I haven’t met one person who does not roll their eyes and say ‘What are they thinking? We are the Pioneer Valley. We always will be the Pioneer Valley,’” said Anthony. “My own suspicion is that this is literally dead in the water. It will never go anywhere. Your brand isn’t what you say it is. It’s what your end-owners say it is.”

Anthony, who has worked on United Way and Franklin County Chamber of Commerce campaigns in the past, said of the Springfield-led effort, “They did miss an enormously wonderful opportunity to reposition ‘Pioneer Valley’ for the amazing place it is. What’s missing entirely is that love of community, that love of connection, that love of being neighborly. West Mass is a great name for an insurance company, or for a development corporation. But it does nothing to isolate this unique valley. No one is ever going to say, ‘I’m from West Mass.’”

WestMass Development Corp. is the name of the EDC’s business and industrial park affiliate, Westmass Development Corp.

Woody Pistrich of Deerfield, who was among those drawn to the petition, said the connection with the development corporation is among things that bother him most about the new name imposed on the region.

“This cheesy thing was done by out-of-town people,” he said, noting that an EDC Facebook page began drawing negative comments almost as soon as it was unveiled.

“Not everyone was gung-ho,” he said. “The corporations are trying to push it. It’s a weird link with a commercial real-estate development company. It has nothing to do with the actual people who live here. The fortunate thing about the Pioneer Valley has been the lack of huge development. Is it really that bad here? The main benefits of the valley are what’s left of its rural character.”

Mavericks welcome

“Hello Maverick” is a greeting prospective visitors to the area get when they go roaming on WestMass.com. The tourism website is run by the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts.

The use of “maverick” came from the Oklahoma-based Cubic Creative. West Mass proponent Mary Kay Wydra of the Springfield area tourism bureau said, “Pioneers kind of lend itself to the past; mavericks go forward and blaze trails.”

Pistrich criticized the substitution of “maverick” for “pioneer” to characterize the region’s people.

But Pistrich countered “A maverick is unbranded cattle; a pioneer is an innovator, like a computer pioneer.”

Although the West Mass brand — which Wydra described as “more contemporary” than “Western Mass.” — is seen as an umbrella that can be used along with any other sub-regional branding, former Franklin County Chamber of Commerce president Ann Hamilton said, “It’s just not particularly catchy.”

Hamilton, who continues working with the chamber on its strategic planning, including marketing, acknowledged, “It’s confusing, no question. I thought it was something that came out of MGM,” which is building a new casino as a major Springfield attraction.

She said that neither Franklin County nor any other regional tourism agency is obligated to use the “West Mass” logo, and added, “I think we’ll continue to use ‘Franklin County’ and will look into doing more cooperative marketing with Hampshire County Regional Tourism Council.

Hampshire’s slogan, which Hamilton finds appealing, is “The other side of Massachusetts.”


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