OCEAN CITY – A new study that calls the town’s advertising budget “amateurish”, and the town’s advertising company “ineffective” has many town officials scratching their heads with more wonderment than concern this week.
Several days before Ocean City’s new website and advertising campaign are to launch on May 11, information about the findings of a new independent, yet “classified” study was leaked to The Dispatch claiming that the town isn’t getting the best “bang” for their proverbial advertising bucks.
Infoworkz, a Salisbury-based technology solutions company, released a two-page press release on Monday essentially promoting the findings of its independent study on the town’s advertising spending as a way of “getting our names out there, and showing taxpayers that their money isn’t being spent wisely,” according to Infoworkz’ New Business Strategist David Termotto.
Termotto said the report was put together over a year’s period based on meetings with various town officials and members of the Ocean City business community. Termotto said the company was compelled to embark on the study, despite never being asked or paid to do it, after reading various press reports about certain issues pertaining to the advertising budget.
“We feel that the town is spending its advertising budget very foolishly,” said Termotto. “It’s too political rather than professional, and we think that it’s way too late to be making some of the changes they are making now.”
Termotto said that his company merely wanted to raise awareness amongst taxpayers that the almost $4 million in advertising money is not seeing a solid return as far as visitors are concerned.
“If you spend $4 million, you should see double that in the return, and I don’t think that is happening in Ocean City. Obviously, MGH is not doing the job, nor is the town branding itself properly,” he said.
The press release particularly bashed the town for it’s lack of branding, citing “I Love NY” and “Virginia is For Lovers” as good branding campaigns, and claimed that Ocean City had no memorable branding campaign.
“If you ask yourself the question, ‘what is Ocean City’s brand?’ you will get the answer plain as day, because there isn’t one,” said Termotto.
Although MGH, which has won several international awards for their work in Ocean City including two MarCom awards, had instilled “More Fun Here” as a brand in Ocean City a few years back, as well as have created the slogan “OC-ASAP” for the new www.ococean.com website, Termotto said that it just wasn’t enough.
“This report isn’t supposed to be a knock on anyone in particular, it’s just supposed to get the message out there,” said Termotto, “but if it is a knock on anyone, it’s the amateur way in which the mayor and the City Council have handled this situation. There’s too many chefs in the kitchen, and no one is really in the culinary business.”
It could be argued that Infoworkz might be making a play to get on the town’s radar for the upcoming reevaluation of the town’s advertising contract, as MGH’s contract expires in July, and council will be looking at new candidates in the fall.
Termotto said that though his company could do the job, he feels that the process will be similar to the seemingly “in-house” decision to award the redesign of the town’s website to MGH.
“We could be brought in as consultants for half of what they are paying now, but we don’t think it’s going to happen,” said Termotto. “They’ll probably just go through the motions and come to the same design as before and go with MGH.”
On the other hand, it could also be argued if in fact Infoworkz is vying for the town’s advertising contract, the report may essentially hurt their chances, prompting one town official to wonder aloud if “criticizing the Mayor and Council, who are the very people who would hire you, might not be a very good strategy.”
Assistant Tourism Director Debbie Travers said that she met with Termotto almost a year ago, and it was to hear his presentation for advertising ideas, one of which included “putting free coupons for ice cream cones” in one of the town’s tourism guides.
“I don’t know where this report is coming from because I never gave any statistics of concrete information to them,” said Travers. “There’s a lot of unknowns without really seeing it, but I’m not sure how you can really measure the success of a campaign without true data and statistics.”
Travers said that Termotto didn’t ever state that he was compiling information for a study, but noted that he spent much of his presentation criticizing the town.
Termotto claims to have copies of all the town’s vital reports dealing with advertising and says the report is based on actual numbers.
Councilwoman Mary Knight, who also is the chairperson of the Tourism Commission, said that she was unsure of Termotto’s motives.
“Maybe this is a publicity stunt, but I don’t think many of his claims hold a lot of water,” said Knight. “Even if he thinks we suck, the statistics alone show that our tourism campaign has helped and continues to help Ocean City through these tough times.”
Still, Termotto says that the report is only to point out Ocean City’s lack of what he calls “professional direction and profitability.”
“Ocean City is a group of good intentioned civil servants who are essentially unqualified to handle an almost $4 million advertising budget,” said Termotto.