OCEAN CITY – Though their contract expires at the end of June, the Tourism Commission will recommend to the Mayor and City Council that MGH Advertising be granted a 15-month contract extension prior to that review.
After a 4-3 vote in October that granted MGH Advertising the task of creating the town’s new $178,000 website, Councilman Joe Hall motioned to put the advertising firm’s contract out to the open market and have other advertising agencies compete to be the town’s agency. The council passed the motion unanimously.
At last week’s Tourism Commission meeting, Assistant Tourism Director Debbie Travers recommended to the commission that MGH’s contract be extended for 15 months and that future ad contracts begin based on the calendar year, rather than the fiscal year.
“We need to change this to a calendar year, because as it stands now, MGH’s contract expires at the end of June when all the ad money for this year has been spent and all the planning has already been done,” said Travers.
Even if the town hired a new ad agency in July, which would be seemingly impossible due to the lengthy process that a review will take, the current “Rodney the Lifeguard” campaign would be running through the summer season, and a new agency may not be willing or even able to run a campaign that was created by another agency.
In addition, Travers said that the Rodney campaign is a two-year deal, and though she was in favor of doing an agency review, she was concerned about the possibility of leaving the town with no advertising agency to run the campaign if the town allowed the MGH contract to expire without a temporary renewal.
“This is a good business decision,” said Mayor Rick Meehan. “I think there’s a lot of unfair things said about MGH, and everyone in these tough times is looking for someone to blame for how tough things have gotten recently. But the bottom line is that we need to get the most out of the campaigns that we have already paid for.”
Some members of the business community, including Jon Tremellen of the Princess Royale Hotel thought the time was now to look for a new agency.
“How can we really gauge how good of a job MGH is doing?,” queried Tremellen. “We had the worst summer in 15 years in 2008, and it was also the smallest crowd in 22 years. They’ve been our agency for almost seven years, and I think it’s time we see what else is out there.”
Hall was noticeably displeased when learning of the Tourism Commission’s recommendation that will be presented to the council in upcoming weeks.
“Mike Noah told the council in the fall that this was a perfect time to do an agency review, and if we wait another 15 months to do a review, then there’s going to be some new excuse about why we should just extend MGH’s contract,” said Hall.
Hall did concede, however, that the contract should be switched to the calendar year, in which a new agency would start their contract in September or October, and spend the winter building a new campaign.
“While this Rodney campaign is unfolding, we need to look forward and do an agency review,” said Hall. “There’s no reason why that can’t happen simultaneously with the current campaign.”
Still, some in the town think that the quest to find a cheaper price or simply just some new ideas is discrediting the job that MGH advertising has done for the town over the last seven years.
“I just feel like people are trying to kick them to the curb,” said Councilwoman and Tourism Commission Chair Mary Knight. “They’ve done a fine job for Ocean City and this is the first year that we’ve actually been able to spend a lot of money on advertising.”
The $3.7 million in advertising spending is a big jump from the just over $1 million the town had been working with throughout MGH’s tenure in Ocean City, but one interesting point is the amount of money that the town pays to MGH as their agency fee.
“We only pay them $160,000 per year,” said Meehan. “I don’t know much about how advertising companies get paid, but I do know that for what our budget is, we’ve got a pretty sweet deal.”
Travers said she was concerned that doing an agency review now might cause MGH to pull a repeat of the previous advertising company who worked for Ocean City, who didn’t re-bid their services when the RFP was released, thus opening the door for MGH to win the gig.
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas, however, disagrees with that notion.
“Doing an agency review is one of those things that will provide balance to the town,” said Pillas. “It’ll give the chance for other agencies to show us what they can do, and we can see some other prices. What’s wrong with that?”
MGH President Andy Malis told The Dispatch in late October that his company was “incredibly proud of the work we’ve done in Ocean City, and we understand the process, and we’re very confident that we will retain our job at the end of that process.”
Pillas hinted that in her time corresponding with MGH, she’s learned that Malis is willing to go through all the political processes.
“If anything, Andy (Malis) is a businessman, and he already told us that he’d fight for his job,” she said.