Ocean City Officials Back Return Of ‘Rodney’

OCEAN CITY — Rodney has finally been deemed a success, at least from the Ocean City Tourism Commission’s perspective.

The town accepted 10 Requests for Proposals (RFP’s) last week for the town’s advertising contract, and now it’s becoming a bit clearer what the presentations could look like, as it appears that the town wants to stick with its beefcake “spokes-guard” in next year’s advertising campaign.

Simply put, there was some uncertainty whether the 10 companies would be bringing new ideas to the table, or if the town would instruct the candidates to implement Rodney the Lifeguard into their pitches. When the council voted to start the process to find a new agency several months back, they held firm to the notion that they would exercise their option to use the Rodney the Lifeguard character if they deemed him a success after summer season.

Oddly enough, as the bids were opened almost at the exact same time the season was coming to a close, the process began to weed through the candidates, despite no word from the town on whether Rodney was going to be renewed for next year.

When presented with the question at last week’s Tourism Commission meeting, Mayor Rick Meehan was a bit reluctant to give the nod to Rodney, even though he has been one of the most vocal supporters of the character and actor Blake Adams, who plays Rodney; but after some discussion, the commission gave a unanimous thumbs up to the MGH’s kitschy spokes-guard.

“It’s something that we might need to have a further discussion about, but I think we could all agree that unless someone brings us an idea that blows us away, we are going to stay with Rodney,” said Meehan.

Response to the Rodney character has been overwhelmingly positive, according to many in the town’s ranks, and even those who weren’t the biggest supporters of the idea have even acknowledged the widespread appeal of Ocean City’s new face of tourism.

“Everything that I’ve heard has been positive about Rodney and the campaign as a whole,” said Park Place Jewelers owner and outgoing Ocean City Chamber of Commerce President Todd Ferrante. “It’s also a character that needs some time to grow and evolve too, so maybe one year isn’t enough.”

It was revealed last week by Tourism Director Deb Travers that two of the 10 candidates for the advertising contract would be essentially taken off the list as they represent other resorts or tourism entities, such as cruise line charters, which would dwindle the number to seven new candidates and MGH Advertising, which is vying to retain its position as the town’s agency as they have for the last seven years.

Travers told the Tourism Commission that an additional five companies appeared to be charging hourly rates in their proposed fee structures, as opposed to the flat annual fee system that the town would prefer, meaning that the 10 companies could be cut in half on those merits, and when coupled with the other two who allegedly represent other tourism destinations, the number of candidates looks to be already down to three.

Keeping Rodney also seems like a economically viable choice too in this case, as Travers reported that the town sits on about the same amount in remaining advertising dollars to use through the fall and spring at approximately $1.2 million.

“The $1.2 million that is left over in advertising budget for the rest of the year doesn’t factor in production costs for a new campaign,” said City Manager Dennis Dare. “If you go with an idea for something other than Rodney, you are going to diminish that number pretty quickly.”

For the record, production costs for the Rodney campaign came in at almost $350,000 last year, and spearheading a whole new idea and fitting the bill to produce such an idea may not be the most economical way to do business, according to some on the tourism commission.

This reality, coupled with the fact that the state’s most recent budget cut has hammered the state’s tourism budget and leaves the $187,500 in grant money that the town received last year in limbo, is perhaps another sign that developing what the town has already enjoyed some success in is the preferred path at this point.

“If you talk to anyone who has ventured outside of Ocean City this summer, it’s obvious that people know who Rodney is, so that’s got to mean something,” said Melanie Pursell, executive director of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce.

Meehan also made a point to go on record during the meeting expressing his disagreement with the council’s decision to offer the contract to companies outside the state of Maryland.

The council voted to extend the offer to agencies in adjacent states including Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia and Washington DC, but Maryland was the state best represented in the final tally of the RFP’s, as Maryland agencies made up 40 percent of the final grouping.

“I rarely miss meetings, but I did miss that meeting and I want to go on record by saying I disagree with that decision,” said Meehan. “It caused quite a stir in the state of Maryland to bid out to companies outside the state, and there were many who were very concerned about it, and [the state’s Department of Business and Economic Development] couldn’t understand why we would do something like that when we are partners with the state on so many other ventures.”

If Travers’ calculations are correct and the list of candidates has already been essentially cut down to three, including MGH, coupled with the commission’s concurrence with Rodney success, and the town’s desire to be fiscally conservative with its spending, a change in the guard at the advertising post may not be as imminent as it was perceived just a month ago.

“Unless someone brings something more economical that promises better results, we think [Rodney] has a lot of life left, and we are going to move forward with him in 2010,” Meehan said.