On Thursday the PNJ had an editorial that praised the Greater Pensacola Chamber’s “bold move forward” of choosing a Nashville firm, BOHAN Advertising, to handle the area’s tourism marketing. (Local firm E.W. Bullock Associates had held the contract for the last eleven years.) This was the third major marketing contract to go to an out-of-town firm in the last year or so; the chamber had previously hired Sanibel-based NOISE, Inc. for its rebranding project, and the City of Pensacola has hired the Tallahassee-based Zimmerman Agency for a comprehensive contract that covers both the city’s enterprise operations (the port, airport, and natural gas utility) and a new branding and marketing campaign for the city itself.
(Full disclosure: I work for a Pensacola advertising agency, and while we didn’t compete for the City of Pensacola contract or the tourism contract, we did compete for the chamber rebranding project. I’m also a past president of AAF Pensacola and an unabashed advocate for our local advertising talent. So feel free to take this with a generous helping of salt.)
The PNJ argues that a shakeup of the status quo is self-evidently a good thing.
The decision to grab the BOHAN Advertising group from Nashville is another step forward in fresh, new thinking for our area, another affirmation that it can’t be, and it shouldn’t be, business as usual. …
The City and the Chamber both have an obligation to hire the best ideas, and sometimes those ideas come from a fresh vision, just like our local firms and industries give new life and new ideas to clients outside of Escambia County and the Panhandle. …
And we congratulate the Chamber for stepping outside of a comfortable, yet incorrect, past assumption that locals always know best.
Fair enough. Locals don’t always know best, and maybe our tourism will benefit from a fresh perspective. It’s just ironic that the two entities ostensibly devoted to local economic development keep hiring out-of-town firms to do their work.
“Nobody can say Ashton Hayward doesn’t spend money locally, but we need to get the very best to truly put us on the map,” Mayor Hayward told the PNJ back in February, talking about the city’s contract with Zimmerman. That started with an $82,500 branding project, and is now known to include an annual retainer fee of $474,000. The retainer doesn’t cover out-of-pocket expenses like travel, digital design and programming, or other production costs. It also doesn’t include a dime towards media placement — i.e. the stuff that consumers actually see: magazine ads, billboards, commercials on TV and radio, etc. Even if their work is objectively superior to what could be produced in Pensacola, at some point there must be a value analysis. In our pursuit of “the best,” are we just handing out blank checks?
And who says the best ideas can’t be homegrown? Only this past Thursday — the same day the PNJ published its editorial — Visit Pensacola was recognized by Travel + Leisure magazine’s Social Media in Travel + Tourism Awards (SMITTYS) for its original YouTube series, “3-Minute Adventures,” produced by E.W. Bullock Associates.
“The winners of the first-ever SMITTYS are companies that are using social media creatively to enhance the travel experience for their customers and clients,” said Nancy Novogrod, editor-in-chief of Travel + Leisure.
It’s also worth noting that many communities would kill to have our “status quo.” Pensacola’s tourism numbers have nearly doubled since 2000 — and that’s despite several debilitating hurricanes, a global economic panic, and an oil spill. Bed tax revenues have increased over 80%. In 2009, at the nadir of the recession, Escambia County saw only a 2.1% decline in tax revenue — compared to a 12.5% decline in Florida and a 15.9% decline nationwide — and it has quickly rebounded to set new records in 2011. Not too shabby.
Time will tell what kind of results BOHAN and Zimmerman will produce for our area. We haven’t seen any of their work yet, and I’d love to be wrong in my skepticism. But the first of the three out-of-town firms’ projects to be completed — the chamber’s rebranding by NOISE — had decidedly mixed results.
When the chamber unveiled its new logo back in April, the design team from NOISE cited a lofty Michelangelo quote: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
Others were more circumspect. The PNJ‘s own Troy Moon offered the chamber some advice: “Next time you’re looking for a logo, call our art department. We have a couple of talented graphic guys who could have knocked out the design you guys contracted for during an afternoon shift.”
Even Chamber CEO Jim Hizer’s enthusiasm seemed strangely qualified.
“I’m going to make a confession,” Hizer said. “When I first saw that logo, I thought, ‘Okay, it’s pretty good.’ But it has really grown on me.” He added that NOISE was nearly finished with “one of the best websites that I’ve ever been associated with,” to be unveiled in a few weeks’ time.
However, less than a week after the brand launch, the chamber voted to terminate its contract with NOISE and hire local firm Clever Ogre to start over on the website. Megan Prawdzik, the chamber’s vice president of marketing and communications, explained that Clever Ogre “had better tools than NOISE” to finish the website in a limited amount of time. She said the work-to-date invoice from NOISE was something in the range of $60,000, while Clever Ogre’s entire contract for the website (which launched recently and is fantastic) was only $11,500.
In other words, our local firms have the skills, and they tend to incur lower bills.