OCEAN CITY – While it may cost $178,000 to bring a “More Fun Here” type web presence to Ocean City, elected officials overwhelmingly called out for more bids before making a decision.
MGH Advertising, the same people that brought Ocean City the “More Fun Here” ad campaign and others, laid out plans for a $178,440 upgrade and redesign to the town website on Wednesday, but the proposal came under harsh scrutiny from several City Council members who thought the number was a little high to just be awarded without the usual bidding process.
Though everyone on the council agreed that the town was in dire need of an improved website, few were able to stomach the apparent “sticker shock” that came at the end of MGH Advertising President Andy Malis’ proposal, namely the total price tag.
“I don’t know if this is a good price or a bad price because I haven’t seen any other price, said Councilman Jim Hall, “Andy, you’ve been kind of our favorite brother with all the great work MGH has done for us over the years, but I really think a job that costs this much should be put up for bid.”
City Code requires that all items over $7,500 should be put up for bid, according to Councilman Joe Hall, who agreed others should be permitted to bid on the job.
“Andy, you probably have an advantage because you know the town so well, but I don’t think it would offend you if we allowed others to bid on this,” he said. “I was on the council when we hired you six years ago to be our ad company and we liked you because you were the little guy who came in here and wowed us.”
Malis’ proposal was a three-phase process with projected delivery time for the new Ocean City website around April 1, a date that he thought no other company would be able to match.
“If you bid this out, the problem you are going to run into, other than meeting the April 1 delivery date, is that other companies or designers wouldn’t know exactly what you want and need for your site,” said Malis.
Mayor Rick Meehan recommended MGH do the website without a bid process claiming that “our ad agency should do our website so that everything is connected and be a sole-source way to take our site and our town to the next level.”
If the $178,000 website overhaul were to be accepted, it would account for about 3.5 percent of the overall advertising budget, which Meehan said would be well worth the investment.
“Nothing we could spend this money on will amount to this much of a return. These days, everything goes through our website, and our presence now is good, five years ago it was nil. It’s time to take the next step,” he said.
The town website in question is the www.ococean.com site, that has seen its unique visitors triple in the last five years to almost three million. MGH proposed making it a purely database driven site, sprinkled with video capabilities as well as aesthetically pleasing graphics and attention grabbing animation. According to Malis, the town would also be able to handle all the “backend” of the site, which means that the town would have the capabilities to run all the content on the site in-house, rather than go through MGH for every desired change.
The council agreed that the current town information technology department didn’t have the capabilities to create a site like the one that MGH proposed, but some members refused to believe that Malis’ company was the only one that could.
“For this amount of money, I think we owe it to the taxpayers to put this up for a bid by RFP,” said Councilwoman Margaret Pillas.
Local web developer John Gehrig, president of D3 Corp in West Ocean City, confirmed Thursday that he would likely make a bid for the site as did Max Hamby, owner of Ocean City-based Jigsaw Solutions who attended the meeting, and said afterwards that “based on Malis’ proposal I didn’t see anything in there that I haven’t done for another client for much less.”
Councilwoman Mary Knight, who was the lone member in favor of voting MGH’s proposal through without bid, did “extensive” research and thought the amount was “a good price after my research.”
“I was told by many of the cities I talked to, like Austin, Texas or Anchorage, Alaska for instance, that I would be hard-pressed to get a website like what I described for less than $250,000.”
Knight praised the talent that MGH apparently boasts, which Malis described as a young core group of designers that have worked on web design projects in some capacity for such household names as the New York Giants, Coca-Cola and CBS.
The council plans to choose one website that has similar or favorable attributes that they would desire for the new Ocean City site and allow bidders to project what they could build for a monetary amount. The council hinted that the job might not necessarily go to the lowest bidder, but rather to the best company for the job.
“We’re looking for a website that promotes family and fun, but we want to make sure we get it at the best price,” said Jim Hall.