OCEAN CITY – A revamped presentation of OC Experience, a marketing tool geared toward travel shows, was prematurely proposed this week as the City Council felt lost in what to approve due to details, such as exact costs, missing from the proposal.
Last year, Spark Productions LLC presented the OC Experience as a tractor trailer sporting Ocean City’s brand traveling to different shows selling the town as a destination.
Spark Productions has a 20-year history of event production and event management in Ocean City, producing the OC Car and Truck Show and Beachfest and serving as event manager of Cruisin OC.
The Mayor and City council supported the idea last year but not the price tag, which was upwards of $270,000. This week, Brad Hoffman of Spark Productions presented a “tweaked” and much more nimble version of the concept.
Hoffman submitted that in the last year Spark Productions has revamped the proposal to a 10-foot by 20-foot portable booth with many interchangeable pieces that will be able to be used at any event the town wishes including events within Ocean City as well as travel shows.
According to Spark Productions, the booth will have four monitors playing video montages of both vintage and current Ocean City vacations, special events coverage, sports events coverage and other unique photos of Ocean City. Collateral material about Ocean City will be given to guests as well as an Ocean City souvenir with the town’s website stamped on it.
Participants will also have the chance to win prizes, which would include hotel accommodations and free dinner vouchers. Visitors to the booth will be able to see the beach, hear the ocean and feel as if they were in Ocean City.
By gathering data, such as email addresses, and using social networking sites, the goal is to get attendees to book their vacation before they leave the OC Experience booth.
Hoffman explained that the most important element to the booth is the email kiosk. The kiosk will snap a photo of a booth visitor and place them in an Ocean City attraction, such as the Boardwalk or the beach. Participants will receive the photo by email requiring them to submit a valid email address.
“The email kiosk is a very important component of the OC Experience,” Hoffman said. “The email kiosk can go out and be used in many different ways by the city to gather email addresses and market our brand and our town to those people.”
Spark Productions’ proposal concluded with its suggestion to be the main production company that will manage, operate and promote the platform. Also, Hoffman said he values the town’s advertising firm’s input and will include it in the final rendering of the booth concept. The city will own both the event and the booth.
Hoffman requested a two-year commitment from the town, paying Spark Productions a fee of $10,000 per event with a schedule of four or five events per year, which includes travel show registration and booth space. The estimated total budget for the project is $180,000. The cost will include the construction of the booth, management by Spark Productions, travel expenses, event collateral and prizes/giveaways.
Tourism Director Deb Turk agreed that there is a need for Ocean City to become more involved in travel shows. In reviewing travel show attendees, there is a strong presence of the town’s competing resort areas, such as Atlantic City and Virginia Beach.
“What I saw was missing at a lot of these shows was a Maryland presence, let alone Ocean City,” she said.
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas suggested forwarding the concept to Ocean City’s tourism department to work the details out, such as a list of exact costs, form a contract with Spark Productions, and return to the Mayor and City Council with the “nuts and bolts” of OC Experience.
“I am absolutely for this concept, totally, 100 percent to buy in to go to trade shows,” she said. “I am hoping to get some costs on this booth. I mean we just can’t spend taxpayer’s money without costs, a breakdown of what it is going to cost us. And the fact that anybody can use this inside of Ocean City, this is pretty interesting.”
Councilman Brent Ashley pointed out that besides the cost the council should be focused on the rewards in attending travel shows.
“To me, this is a no brainer and this is a step that is needed, we can’t promote too much,” Ashley said. “I particularly like the fact that we are allowing our local promoters to promote Ocean City because no one else knows Ocean City like the locals. This is well needed.”
Councilman Doug Cymek revealed that the council had received an email from the Tourism Advisory Board (TAB) stating that it had not been updated on the modified version of OC Experience.
Hoffman responded that he had initially worked with TAB on the concept but was now in the phase to work directly with the tourism department.
“TAB is an advisory board and they advised the Mayor and Council that this was a good idea but to get it done I felt that my priority was with Deb [tourism director],” he said. “I didn’t leave them out of the loop. They have my phone number …”
Cymek added that there is time for the OC Experience to be worked out since the travel show schedule provided was for 2013.
“There is a lot of conversation that needs to take place … but to sit here today and just arbitrarily approve $50,000 in fees for you for next year I just can’t bring myself to do that yet, there is too many questions that have to be answered,” he said.
Councilman Joe Hall supported Pillas’s suggestion to move the concept forward and was also confident in have Spark Productions carry out the task.
“This is a very affordable platform for the initial step to integrate,” he said. “I would like that it be strengthened in the idea that we are going to work with you and that we want to see the tourism department generate the expenses and the contract for us to approve.”
Council Secretary Lloyd Martin did not agree with automatically forming a contract with Spark Productions.
“We haven’t heard anything from MGH as far as if this is normal costs,” he said. “I haven’t heard anything else from anyone in the business as far as if this is the right or wrong price for us.”
Martin added that the concept needs to be shared with TAB in the possibility the board’s members may be interested in sharing the costs.
“I am totally confused here,” Council President Jim Hall said as he asked for Spark Productions to meet with TAB, the tourism department and MGH to nail down the details as far as who will work the booth, who will design and build the booth, and what it will precisely cost.
Jim Hall added, “We put TAB together as a Tourism Advisory Board to work with our tourism department and MGH to bring us new good ideas, so I was hoping the door would bust open … and everybody would say that they embrace this concept.”
At that point, Pillas clarified her motion that Ocean City move forward in participating in travel shows, send the concept to the tourism department, the tourism department get together with stakeholders, and return to council within a month to discuss all details involved.
The council approved the motion with a vote of 4-2, with Cymek and Martin abstaining due to seeking more information, and Councilwoman Mary Knight absent.
Mayor Rick Meehan took the time to assert that Ocean City does participate in trade shows but with the change in times the town’s participation in consumer shows have become limited as Ocean City becomes more involved with marketing over the Internet.
“Technology has certainly changed how people look for vacations … they spend more time on computers then they do going to consumer shows,” he said.
Meehan did agree that the town is in need of a new show booth that is versatile and can be used in multiple ways but there is a disconnection on the decision of who will work the booth. He suggested that the town’s business partners would be capable of volunteering to fill that position.
“It would be very upsetting as a person that worked on a concept for the good of this town and brought it forward and then may not be the one operating that concept, that would definitely be disingenuous from my standpoint because I have worked so hard and put so much passion into this,” Hoffman said. “I understand this city operates on a budget and have to be fiscally responsible, but the benefits far outweigh the costs of this concept, and the benefit of me in the booth with my team will up the level of that booth being what we need it to be.”