The Hamilton Spectator
Rebranding HSR ‘like putting lipstick on a pig’
Critics pan HSR+ transit plan as empty exercise; spend money on improved bus services
Reader reaction to my Monday column about a consultant’s proposal to rebrand HSR as HSR+ (Plus) was swift and mostly negative.
The recommendation was widely panned as a gigantic waste of money and waspishly compared to putting lipstick or perfume on a pig.
One Burlington reader said renaming Hamilton’s transit system HSR+ was about as imaginative as calling a dog Spot.
Others were disgusted the city is paying $410,000 on what they believe is an empty exercise rather than spending it on improving bus services.
Some readers were upset the consulting company, Entro Communications Inc., is from Toronto rather than Hamilton.
Asked is if this kind of blowback is common when rebranding community institutions, Rita Hopkins, Entro’s project manager for the initiative, directed all inquiries to city staff. Hopkins did note, however, that the work the company is doing is not just about naming.
She’s right, of course. That same point was made in Monday’s column, but it was largely lost in the hubbub over the HSR+ recom- mendation, which only came to light thanks to a leaked January-dated document.
So let’s take a closer look at the full scope of the work. First off, the procurement process for the contract closed in August 2014. Two other companies besides Entro bid on it — factor (e) design initiative Inc. of Hamilton and OKD Marketing Group of Burlington.
According to city spokesperson Dennis Guy, the two local companies were disqualified because they didn’t meet the technical requirements of the tender. The original contract awarded to Entro was for $439,218, but that was reduced to $410,000 by diverting some of the work to city staff.
Transit director David Dixon signed off on the contract when he arrived in late 2014, but the initiative was launched under the watch of his predecessor, Don Hull. It sprang from Rapid Ready, the umbrella report on the city’s transportation vision.
According to the tender, Entro is supposed to develop an integrated mobility brand strategy and identity a marketing strategy, and an implementation plan for the city’s “entire transportation system.”
That includes “potentially re-envisioning the Hamilton Street Railway (HSR), accessible transit and rapid transit brands; investigating bus route naming options; developing new stop, station designs; integrating the Hamilton bikeshare brand; investigating cycling route naming and signage; developing an integrated online website and mobile website with multimodal trip planner.”
There’s more, but you get the idea. Entro appears to be equipped for it. They turned Mississauga Transit into MiWay, did brand- ing work for York region’s VIVA bus rapid transit system, and produced signage for Brampton’s new Zum BRT service.
Other clients include Casino Rama, Hydro One, Interac, and Labatt Breweries. Closer to home, they had a hand in designing signage for the renovated Art Gallery Of Hamilton and Hamilton Farmers’ Market.
Through surveys, workshops and focus groups, Entro clearly grasped the heritage value of the existing HSR brand. What remains to be seen is what impact further market research and community blowback will have on the HSR+ recommendation.
As Dixon said in Monday’s column, HSR+ is one of the names in the hopper. Will it survive a final cut or will Entro, perhaps, recommend a refreshed HSR logo for regular buses and something else for other transportation programs and services?
More importantly, will Entro’s strategy do anything other than collect dust? After all, Dixon’s 10-year transit plan estimated it would cost $16.5 million to launch an aggressive marketing and branding plan, including applying new brands to all rolling and fixed transit assets. Where’s that money going to come from? On top of that, because the province didn’t come through on council’s LRT add-on — a $302-million request for new buses and a storage f acility — what the hell is there to market anyway?