OCEAN CITY – Locals in Ocean City may not understand what all the fuss about Rodney the Lifeguard is about, but he’s already creating quite a buzz off the island and as hoped, for the island.
Ocean City Public Relations Director Donna Abbott has been fielding numerous press inquiries from both regional and national news organizations about the town’s new mascot of sorts, and coupled with the “value” angle that the various media outlets are hoping to showcase this season, Ocean City has been getting more exposure than usual.
“The media seems to be focusing on value this year, and Ocean City is picking up momentum in the coverage we are getting because we offer so many free events and have so many great deals here,” said Abbott. ”It is also helpful, from a regional standpoint, that we are a drive-to destination, and our Rodney campaign has been very well received thus far.”
Although residents of Ocean City may not see the town’s Rodney commercials, as they are shown in five major markets on the east coast, including New York, Abbott said the character is catching on and drawing interest from major news organizations like Fox News and the Weather Channel and has received mentions in major newspapers like the Philadelphia Inquirer, the New York Times, the Washington Post and USA Today.
“Last year’s ‘end of the world’ campaign earned us coverage unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, and this campaign, though not as immediate, has been very timely, and continues to build similar to that campaign,” said Abbott.
Abbott said the coverage is “valuable exposure that money just can’t buy” and helps to keep the resort “top of mind” in the early part of this summer season.
As phase two of the campaign, the town’s advertising company, MGH, has planned to take both Mayor Rick Meehan and the actor who plays Rodney the Lifeguard (NYC-based actor Blake Adams) on the road to Philadelphia, Washington DC, and Baltimore on June 22-24 to do a three-city press tour and will also set up a lifeguard stand in the heart of each city and put on an “Ocean City Experience” type of spectacle.
“It will be a very intense couple of days, and we are getting exposure that MGH had negotiated when they bought ad times, so this is all coverage that we don’t have to pay for,” said Abbott.
In late April, Meehan spent a day visiting various radio stations in the Baltimore area and fielded interviews with the hopes of trying to remind people to take a vacation and to come and visit Ocean City when they do.
Abbott said that tour alone, would have cost $30,000, but was part of the “added value” that MGH had negotiated when they bought ad space for the Rodney campaign.
In essence, Ocean City is getting exposure for offering great value, while getting a great value in free exposure as a bonus for their record ($3.7 million) advertising expenditure.
Meehan said that he looks forward to the upcoming three-city tour and is happy the Rodney character will be going along to take some of spotlight too.
“I’ve had my 15 minutes of fame [with last year’s end of the world campaign], and I like to tell people that Rodney is my alter-ego,” said Meehan. “The easiest thing I can do is talk about Ocean City, and all I have to do is remind people of the great things the town has to offer and that being a tourist is a lot of fun. The only hard thing is remembering the exact dates of certain events.”
Rodney the Lifeguard will be setting a lifeguard stand in the DC suburb of Crystal City, the shops at Liberty Place in downtown Philadelphia and a yet to be determined spot in the downtown area of Baltimore, according to Abbott.
“We have been to all three cities before, but Philadelphia is going to be the toughest market for us to break into, as so many of its residents historically visit the Jersey Shore,” said Abbott, “but we are going to go back there and really try to get people to start thinking Ocean City, Md., rather than Ocean City, N.J.”
Meehan said that having some good news to talk about when he goes on these press tours is helpful, and noted that in many cases, the press is looking for positive things to report on.
“The good news is that we’ve been having record weekends in Ocean City recently, and that’s a very good sign,” said Meehan. “That certainly helps to show everyone that despite what’s going on in the world, Ocean City is the escape that people are looking for, we are thriving, and we want everyone to get on that bandwagon with us.”
As the Rodney campaign completes its first month, it will be difficult to determine whether the character is the overwhelming driving force behind people’s visit to Ocean City, or if it is tradition, value, events or the resort’s close proximity to major metropolitan areas are the main factors. However, Abbott said the signs are there to show that Rodney, who will make his first local appearance during the inaugural Ocean City Beachfest next weekend, is quickly becoming a positive image that people are attaching to Ocean City.
Meehan noted that every campaign has its fair share of naysayers, and the Rodney campaign is no different, as some have called it too gimmicky and argued that it strays from the traditional and nostalgic elements that draw families to town.
“All we can do is put together a good campaign and do what we can to draw people to our website, and to our town”, he said; “Once they get here, it’s up to the businesses to put their own advertising in place so that they get their share of the business.”