Last week, the announcement of the name for the Colorado Department of Transportation’s widening project of Interstate 25 here in Colorado Springs was a hot topic of conversation.

Not only did the chosen moniker take some people by surprise, but also the cost that was reported to pick the name. More than a few folks were wondering how it could have possibly cost $21,000 for PRACO to come up with COSMIX, Colorado Springs Metro Interstate Expansion.

I was one of those people. So I talked to the parties involved and asked a few questions.

“The 21,000 number that keeps being brought up is not just for name development,” said Meredi Vaughan, PRACO’s vice president, director of account planning. “This entire effort was so much bigger than just the name. & The effort was also about determining how people best like to receive information, what’s important to them, their level of understanding, do they even know who CDOT is, and do they know what CDOT is responsible for.”

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I’m fairly certain most folks at least know who the Colorado Department of Transportation is. But I digress.

“We did much more than just brand development,” Vaughan said. “From the outset of this project, our initial focus was to find out what’s important to people. So often in these kinds of projects everything is missed because we don’t listen appropriately. So it’s really been CDOT’s goal to understand and listen to what the impacted stakeholders groups want and need from this project.”

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So, we now know that CDOT didn’t spend $21,000 just to name an interstate expansion project. According to George Hayward of PRACO, the agency’s fee was only $13,000. The other $8,000 was spent on such things as printing, hiring a company to recruit the folks who participated in focus groups about the project, and paying and feeding those folks, he said.

According to Hayward, PRACO put 250 man-hours into the project. If my math is correct, that translates into $52 an hour. Which makes me wonder why I’m still a journalist and not a public relations professional? But I digress, again.

Back to what CDOT got for its money and how the whole thing worked.

Vaughan said that there were 37 people in three focus groups that helped choose the name and provide input about the project. One of the groups was made up of business leaders, the others were commuters and residents. The people who made up the business leaders group volunteered their time. The members of the two other groups were paid $75 each for their time and trouble.

But the gathering of information didn’t stop with the focus groups.

“We did surveys in addition to the focus groups,” Vaughan said. “There were three stakeholder groups: internal project team members, people who work here at CDOT; we had residents and commuters, and those residents and commuters were defined by & seven zip codes that either border directly the project or from which origin commuters would be coming and going from; and then also local businesses.”

There were about 1,000 people who participated in the telephone surveys, she said.

While I’m starting to have a clearer view of the bigger picture of COSMIX, my curiosity about the name and the logo still hasn’t been satiated. Vaughan said that the focus groups were given three choices, each with two corresponding logo treatments. My request for the other two names was respectfully denied.

“We really want to focus just on COSMIX,” she said. “We think that putting the two other names out there again is not really relevant to this project. We think COSMIX is the right name based on the feedback that we got and all of the testing that we went through.”

Yeah, but I’d be willing to bet that I’m not the only one who would like to decide for himself whether 37 of my friends and neighbors made a good choice. And if COSMIX really was the cream of the crop, maybe that would go a ways to smoothing over the project’s rough start. But I could be wrong in that assessment, too.

“I wouldn’t characterize it as a rough start,” said Dave Poling, CDOT project manager for COSMIX. “With the name & it’s somewhat frustrating that that’s all people are focusing on, and yes we did anticipate folks sharing their opinion regarding that name, and we knew that there would be differences of opinion. But & I think they’re kind of missing maybe some of the big picture of this whole effort and focusing on the dollars spent for the project name and logo and are missing all of that stuff that & got us the public input, the public feedback on a whole host of issues other than just the brand and logo.”

Vaughan said the public’s reaction was in line with expectations.

“When we launched T-REX we had very similar response in the Denver market,” she said. “There’s always going to be Monday morning quarterbacking, so to speak. We also anticipated the types of feedback we would get because we heard the types of feedback that we got in the qualitative portion of the study. So we’re not at all surprised by the semi-negative coverage.”

But knowing what happened in Denver, wouldn’t you think that maybe there would be a few tweaks here or there that could have been made this time around?

“We feel like there’s nothing we should have done differently or could have done differently,” Vaughan said. “This is a positive step for this community and we think the reaction has generally been what we expected and we’re not surprised that there are people, there are always going to be people & who second guess anything.”

The second-guessing part of me thought that putting a survey in the local papers with a few choices for the name might have been one way to broaden the appeal to the public. Alas, that again goes back to why I’m a journalist and not a PR professional.

“A broader survey wouldn’t have accomplished anything,” Vaughan said. “If anything we would have gotten probably more negative feedback about all of them (the name choices) versus the more effective programmatic information that we needed to help this project be as successful and minimally impactful on the community as it needs to be.

“This project is huge and that’s what sort of getting lost in all of this conversation. This project is going to impact this community for a very long time and we need to give it the gravity that it deserves. Wasting time talking about ‘is this a good name’ is not necessarily beneficial to anybody. We need to be focusing on getting the information that’s important and relevant to people right now.”

In the end, I guess all that really matters is whether CDOT thinks that it received a good value for what it paid. Poling said he thinks the results were worth the cost.

“We attempt different methods to try to get public input,” he said. “For this particular project we wanted specific, broad, representative input into & not just the name of the brand but some of the potential impacts that this project would have. This methodology allowed us to make sure we got very good representation and was able to fairly evaluate and gauge how the community would react to different construction impacts, different phasing options, those types of things.

“The information we got, the name is a side benefit, but it was really all of that other information that we were able to get out of this process that really provides a lot of value to CDOT and to our contractor and ultimately to the public who’s going to be living through this project for the next three or four years.”

But you know, I still would really, really like to see those other names. So if you’re reading this and you were a member of one of those focus groups, feel free to give me a call. I can always use a few good anonymous sources.