City Council Votes 4-3 To Return Same Ad Agency

OCEAN CITY — After a lengthy process that often resembled a political catfight, the end result remained the same: MGH will continue to be the town of Ocean City’s advertising agency for at least one more year.

The City Council approved the Tourism Commission’s recommendation to hire MGH for one year in a split 4-3 decision, with council members Joe Hall, Jim Hall, and Margaret Pillas in opposition, on Tuesday, despite a near 10-minute attempt at a filibuster from Joe Hall and a passionate argument from Pillas, despite it being revealed that she missed all but two of the eight agency presentations last week.

“I was the dissenting vote at the Tourism Commission meeting because I wanted to bring the top three agencies in front of the full council rather than just go with MGH, so we could ask more in depth questions about their fee structures,” she said. “I think some of those presentations showed us that we should use Rodney as a spokesperson or ambassador but not as the brand.  We need to play to the emotional, sentimental, core-based tourist, like families, so we get more of an emotional response, and not just the tongue in cheek campaign.”

The council members’ last ditch effort to sway their council colleagues flopped, as the council voted to hire MGH, who according to the agency review score sheets, ranked first in performance and pricing amongst the eight agencies.

Those statistics as well as the town’s seven-year relationship with the Owings Mills-based company essentially made MGH the odds on favorite on Friday, according to one member of the commission, but as Economic Development Committee Chairman and Carousel Resort Managing Partner Michael James said, there were some other factors that may have played a part in the final decision.

“I made the motion to hire them for a year, because frankly, no one set themselves apart from MGH, and I didn’t see a big enough variance in the risks vs. the rewards of changing agencies,” said James. “Consistency is most important to me going into 2010, and I think going with a proven company that we knew was more important than the risk of change in this economy.”

James hinted that for him, personnel changes and vacancies in the town’s tourism department, such as the still open convention center director position that was vacated by Mike Noah’s resignation, also played a factor in wanting to keep MGH on the town’s payroll.

“I don’t think that anyone, even some of the agencies that presented, thought that MGH did a bad job for us,” said James, “and not one of them had as good of a price.”

For the record, MGH will be paid $275,496 in 2010 to manage the town’s $3.9 million advertising budget.  The next closest agency in price quoted the town $315,000 but that agency ranked dead last in performance, according to the score sheet.  The second rated agency, Gray Kirk Vansant of Maryland quoted the town $400,000, and the third place agency, which was Ogilvy Advertising of Washington, DC, was willing to do the work for the town for the highest price in the agency review, a whopping $1.5 million.

Still, the statistics and the majority couldn’t make Joe Hall swallow the idea of continuing the town’s relationship with MGH.

“It’s getting harder every year,” said Hall. “In the seven years that MGH has done advertising for the town, I’ve had four break-even years, and three where I’ve taken a loss. I still don’t think that I’ve seen evidence that MGH can sustain business in the town of Ocean City for the business community, so going with the lowest price and the guy that you know is not what I agree with in this case.”

Council President Joe Mitrecic disagreed with Hall’s perspective on Wednesday.

“We can’t run the town based on how our own businesses are doing,” said Mitrecic. “We’ve got to do what’s best for the town, and I think we did that here.  Look, my business is suffering just like everyone else’s, but I don’t vote based on how the decision is going to affect my business. Personal feelings have to be put in the pocket when you sit in that chair, and if you can’t do that, you shouldn’t be there.”

Mayor Rick Meehan, who stayed unusually quiet through the entire 40-minute conversation, said that the council made the right decision and called the entire process “fair and open.”

“Unfortunately, I think a lot of the process was clouded by politics,” said Meehan. “If you openly analyze the statistics about where we ended up this year from a business standpoint, we had a winning season compared to every other competitor on the East Coast. For me, this process showed us how good that our current agency really is, and sometimes you have to go through the pain to realize that you are with the right company.”

Meehan also dispelled accusations that the town was missing out on core audiences such as families with the Rodney campaign.

“I think the term ‘cater to families’ is often cliché, because if you look at the Rodney commercials, Rodney was merely the hook to separate us from other markets,” said Meehan, “but if you watch the rest of the commercials, it shows all the traditional family activities that people love coming to our town for.”