OC Reverts Course, Awards Web Work To Own Ad Agency

OCEAN CITY – Though some might be upset with the process, the result ended up being the same as originally proposed: MGH Advertising will design Ocean City’s new website for approximately $178,000.

After a surprising motion proposed at Tuesday’s work session by Councilman Doug Cymek that was quickly seconded by Councilwoman Mary Knight to go ahead with MGH’s proposal to redesign the currently outdated www.ococean.com site, the council passed it in a 4-3 vote with members Joe Hall, Jim Hall, and Margaret Pillas in opposition.

The council was originally scheduled to vote on a neutral website that would be used as “model site” for companies to bid on in the Request For Proposals (RFP) process that is used for any project paid with town money exceeding $10,000.

Ironically, the same councilman that motioned for it to go to an RFP, changed his mind and gave his nod to MGH’s original proposal for just over $178,000. Cymek, who is new to the council after his victory in the October election, researched Tourism Director Mike Noah’s memorandum to the council outlining seven potential sites that could be used for the RFP and came to the decision that MGH was the best for the job and the price was right.

“After contacting the company that designed the majority of the sites that were listed in [Noah’s] memo, I find the MGH price is very much in order, and I would feel very much at ease with making a motion that we proceed with them based on our prior relationship with them, and now knowing that their price is a fair one,” said Cymek.

Though no one on the council feels that the current website should remain unchanged, some felt that the amount of money that a new site designed by the city’s advertising agency, MGH, warranted a proper bidding process.

The most vocal against MGH’s original proposal was Joe Hall, who echoed his continuing disdain for the way this issue has played out so far.

“My understanding of Doug’s original motion was that we were going to develop an RFP for a site that would meet our needs,” Joe Hall said. “I think I just sat down to a sales pitch for the original proposal, and heard nothing about the RFP that the motion respectfully asked staff to provide.”

Noah and Assistant Tourism Director Deb Travers addressed the council on their findings in coming up with seven websites to decide upon in choosing an RFP and expressed a real concern about finding one that would have every feature that Ocean City wanted or needed in a website.

“We found that they were all custom to what they wanted,” said Noah, “none of these sites have everything that we want, and the majority of them use their ad agency to design their website,” Noah said. “We would love to have a site like Bermuda’s, but we’d need a whole new food tax to pay for the $400,000 price tag.”

It also became apparent that no one, even the motion’s harshest critics, questioned the job that MGH would do, but rather were upset at skewing the usual process.

“I was prepared to vote for Charleston’s website to be the RFP, and I thought that would be fair to choose an RFP site to be fair to MGH as they already brought a proposal before council that I thought was premature,” Councilwoman Margaret Pillas said. “I want to see what else is out there and what makes the town and business community excited and if that’s MGH, then great, but until then, my hand won’t go up.”

Mayor Rick Meehan tried to provide candor to the discussion several times acknowledging the council’s “tough decision” citing that it was a move that was supported unanimously by the Tourism Commission, which has representatives from all major stakeholders in the town such as the Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association and the Chamber of Commerce.

“This is a process that started back in August, and you’ll see in your packets, that you have signed letters from all these department heads approving this proposal from MGH. It’s not just about the dollars, it’s about the product that we are going to get in the end, and how it’s going to represent us and our main industry of tourism,” he said.

This whole process started back in late summer at a Tourism Commission meeting when several members asked Andy Malis, president of MGH, to do a proposal for a new site. Some on the commission, admittedly, like Pillas, thought that Malis was going to come back with a quote rather than a proposal.

“At the tourism commission, I thought I was voting for us to get information about updating our site, and to see what was out there, I didn’t think they were going to do a whole proposal,” said Pillas.

Either way, the process seemed to be the biggest thing in question here, and not the outcome, which everyone agreed was needed. It could be argued that the deciding factor inevitably came down to when the new site was going to get done and the endorsements from the various stakeholders represented in the Tourism Commission as echoed by Council President Joe Mitrecic.

“No. one, the people who wrote these letters fought for years to get the advertising budget raised and they are willing to allocate this money to MGH because they think it’s that important,” he said. “Number two, anyone we did hire to do this site would have to work directly with MGH to get the information about us, and MGH wouldn’t do that for free. If we RFP’d it, we’d have to hire a consultant and we’d prolong the process and spend more money in the long run.”

Councilman Lloyd Martin, who missed the majority of the discussions on this issue while on safari in Africa, said, “we need to get a site up and running this year, because you know that everyone is booking on the Internet nowadays. What this does is put the pressure on MGH to do a good job as their contract is expiring in July. If they want to keep their contract, they’ll do a good job. This is going to be a tough year and we are going to need a good website this year.”

The website may not solve all Ocean City’s problems as stated by Councilman Jim Hall, who said “we could have a million dollar website, but it’s still going to be a tough year”, but at the very least the problem about who will design the website has been solved, albeit in a close and controversial 4-3 vote.