Resort Planning To Bid Out Ad Agency Work In ’09

OCEAN CITY – MGH Advertising got the gig to design the town’s website, but now it may have to fight to keep their job as the town’s advertising agency.

No sooner had the dust settled from the controversial 4-3 decision granting MGH the $178,000 job to redesign the site was it proposed by Councilman Joe Hall to start the process to bid out the job for Ocean City’s advertising agency, which council agreed in a 6-1 vote with Councilwoman Mary Knight opposing.

“MGH’s contract expires in July and I think that council needs to have a serious discussion about how we want to proceed and if we want to reach out in this new economy and find someone new,” said Joe Hall. “I bet there’s some very hungry agencies that would want to come in here and competitively bid on this job.”

MGH has handled the town of Ocean City’s advertising for almost 7 years and has come up with several award winning, albeit controversial campaigns, such as “More Fun Here”, and last summer’s popular “End of the World” campaign, which featured a tongue-in-cheek Mayor Rick Meehan urging people to visit the resort “before the ocean dried up.”

The Ocean City Tourism Commission, made up of numerous department heads in local government, City Council members and leaders of the business community, handpicked MGH President Andy Malis to bring back a redesign proposal of the town’s website and unanimously voted that proposal through twice to go before Mayor and Council.

What resulted over a month ago when Malis first gave his presentation before City Council, was apparent “sticker shock” at the $178,000 price tag of the site, causing an outcry for a bid process for the job as is usual protocol for the town.

“The $178,000 price tag was not a surprise,” said Malis. “It was known by everyone that voted unanimously for me to take it in front of Mayor and City Council, and they also voted to change the direction in which drove traffic from our advertising to the site this year, rather than drive it to the site.”

Simply put, plans were laid out before this issue was even presented to the council to change “the call to action” that told people who heard the radio, television or read print or Internet advertising to visit this year, rather than last year’s

Knight praised the decision to go with MGH to design the site, but didn’t dismiss Joe Hall’s motion to bid out their expiring contract.

“To have one agency who understands you to create your brand for you and has done it for 6 ½ years successfully is the most important thing for us to do, but I agree that next July we should look at other agencies because that’s what we’re supposed to do. That’s part of our stewardship,” she said.

Councilman Lloyd Martin said that the decision puts the pressure on MGH to perform well and deliver a great new website, saying, “If they want to keep their contract, they’ll do a good job.”

Malis was expectedly elated by the news that City Council approved his proposal, saying, “we are going to bring an exciting new dynamic to the town with a state-of-the-art website.”

When asked about whether he thought that the new website was going to be the “make or break” intangible in MGH renewing their advertising contract with Ocean City, Malis said, “we don’t usually boast about our prior work, but I think we’ve done a spectacular job for Ocean City, and we are prouder of few projects. [The City Council] has every right to do a RFP and see what else is out there, as that is a natural part of the process. We will defend our work, and the relationship with the town, which we value very much, and in the end, we are confident that we’ll keep the job.”

The controversial website at the $178,000 price tag only accounts for about 3 percent of the advertising budget for the town, but in an age in which the Internet is a primary medium to seek out vacation destinations, it is far larger piece of the puzzle in just who is finding Ocean City, especially in these tough economic times.

The price tag was deemed about middle of the road after research from numerous people in local government and town staff found the figure to be not only on par with what competitors paid for a new state of the art website, but actually ended up being a bargain as some resort towns similar to Ocean City paid more than $200,000 for new websites, in some cases, not even getting all they wanted.

Malis, however, felt caught up in the process, which was obviously skewed in this situation and claims that he merely wanted to continue to do a good job for the town of Ocean City by providing a good website, which is what he claims he was asked to bring before council.

“It’s not me against them. I realize that decisions are complicated and they wouldn’t be good leaders if they just rubberstamped everything that came before them, but I do think they’ll be very pleased with the results,” Malis said.

Malis hinted that the month long process to decide on who would design the website, may jeopardize the original April 1 delivery date, but had a “firm belief that we would have it ready by the start of summer.”