OC Council Approves Firm’s 2011 Marketing Plan

OCEAN CITY – Following some debate and recommendations from the Tourism Advisory Board (TAB) the town’s advertising firm MGH received approval to run with their marketing plan for 2011.

On Tuesday, MGH President Andy Malis explained this year’s concept is to reinforce the key message, “In 2011, Ocean City equals an even greater vacation value.”

Malis explained there is a huge opportunity to reach existing visitors, encourage repeat visits and bring on newcomers through sporting events, special events and festivals. They will continue to promote events and special rate incentives through the Rodney Saves Campaign, Restaurant Weeks, Hotel Week, Springfest, Sunfest, Winterfest, 4th of July, summer camps, Radio Disney, Free Family Fun, OC Air Show, OC’s mobile apps and the new Dew Tour.

The campaign’s goal is to increase the reach to target adults around the age of 25-49, as well as, families with kids and the “female decision maker”. Television, internet, outdoor billboards, radio and golf advertisements will expand across the east coast including Baltimore, Washington D.C., traditional strong Pennsylvania markets, Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey.

Television coverage will run 13 weeks from May 9-Aug. 22, which is one additional week more than in 2010. Spots will run during the highest viewership time of 7-9 a.m. and 5 p.m.-midnight. Television shows will include Wheel of Fortune, American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, the Today Show, Good Morning America, and even the Tonight Show. Cable networks will include FX, TNT, CNN, HGTV, The Weather Channel, Lifetime, ESPN and Fox News.

Internet highlights will run four months, mid-May through mid-September. Internet websites will include The Weather Channel, TripAdvisor, baltimoresun.com, Travel Ad Network, NBC10.com and washingtonpost.com.

Outdoor billboards will expand across the East Coast. There will be 73 billboards posted from May through August, which is 19 additional billboards over 2010, and they will be placed on highways and expressways with heavy commuter traffic, like I-95.

Radio highlights will run for three weeks, July 11-31 to sustain momentum through the season. Most of the spots will run in key morning and evening drive times to reach target commuters.

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas strongly suggested emphasizing Ocean City’s “free” assets through advertisements.

“I don’t see free enough,” Pillas said. “We are giving free activities away to create memories.”

Pillas explained that the city provides free concerts, free activities, free access to the beach, free movies on the beach and a free boardwalk. She said she would like to see more visuals, such as a “free button” on the town’s home page.

Councilman Brent Ashley said he recently stopped 25 visitors on the Boardwalk and asked them what brought them to Ocean City. Their responses included the free memories, the free beach, the free boardwalk, free ocean air and free entertainment.

“We should be emphasizing what we have that’s free,” he said. “A lot of places have deals but we have the best Boardwalk and the best beach for free and that should be brought in strongly.”

Ashley added that not one of the visitors responded that the Rodney Saves Campaign brought them to town.

“Rodney is well known, he is recognized,” Malis said. “When he goes out into special events, he is crowded by people. If you look at the interaction on the Facebook page, people talk about Rodney. I don’t think there is any question that Rodney has been a success and brings a strong interest in Ocean City.”

Councilman Joe Hall asked if it was possible to change the face of Ocean City, “when do we explore moving beyond Rodney?”

Malis responded that is possibly the toughest decision to make in marketing. He said that Rodney has “legs” for at least another season and recommended to do so.

The council was hesitant in approving 2011’s marketing plan, with some hoping to have MGH meet with TAB to finalize the recommendation on strengthening the “free” message.

Tourism Director Deb Turk said that MGH has met with TAB on several occasions and there has not been a notion to have to speak on any issues further. Additionally, she said the plan received approval from TAB. She asked for an approval so MGH could move forward in preparing advertisements for the summer season.

“If there were going to be any changes in creative, in diverting from Rodney or taking it to the next level, we would be able to be on the ground level of the brainstorming for that and not just have a couple ideas presented to us,” TAB Chair Melanie Pursel said. “I think that is the understanding…we would be a part of that.”

Malis said that the issues the council was pointing out were minor when compared to the work that MGH has to do.

“We are looking for a general consensus so we can move ahead with the media plan,” he said.

The council brought TAB forward to present its scheduled recommendations before deciding on approving the marketing plan.

TAB began with the recommendation on the proposed concept of the “OC Experience.” In February Spark Productions owners Brad Hoffman, Brian Stoehr and David Bafford described the “OC Experience” as experimental marketing, or a three-dimensional campaign that offers the touch, feel, smell and sound of Ocean City.

Hoffman explained that the experience will be a “traveling tractor trailer type of set up”, that would travel to deliver Ocean City to prospective visitors in other areas. At the time the council did not approve “OC Experience” mainly due to its cost and asked Spark Productions to meet with TAB to discuss the concept further.

This week TAB said it thought the budget proposed was “not as tight” as it could be.

“We are not recommending to fund the OC Experience today but we will continue to work with them,” TAB member John Gehrig said.

Gehrig said that TAB would continue to work with Spark Productions on the timeline and the funding of the concept, but the OC Experience will not be on the road this year.

TAB also recommended forming a Tourism Growth Fund. Gehrig explained that there are promoters, vendors and investors out there that are willing to come to Ocean City.

“We need to go out there and find those investors,” he said. “We need to find those seeds and show them that we have good soil…to create things grow here.”

TAB asked the council to allocate $300,000 a year from the tourism budget to be placed into the Tourism Growth Fund that would be used to find investors that would bring their events or products to Ocean City.

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas made a motion to allocate the $300,000 of fiscal year 2012’s tourism budget into a Tourism Growth Fund. The council voted unanimously to approve the motion.

Following TAB’s endorsement Councilwoman Mary Knight also made a motion to approve MGH’s 2011 marketing plan and the council voted unanimously to approve it.

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