OC Experience Effort Modified, Approved

OCEAN CITY – Spark Productions reconvened this week with the Mayor and City Council to get the OC Experience underway, receiving a final blessing to move forward with the project despite a prior “painful” meeting.

The OC Experience has developed quite a history with the city government without even hitting the road yet. The bumpy road began in February of 2011 when Brad Hoffman of Spark Productions first proposed the concept as a tractor trailer sporting Ocean City’s brand to attend travel shows and sell the town as a destination. At that time, the Mayor and City Council supported the basic concept but not the price tag, which was upwards of $270,000.

A year later, Hoffman returned with a more defined and less expensive version of OC Experience as a 10-foot by 20-foot portable booth that would break down and fit into the back of van. Hoffman requested a two-year commitment from the town with an estimated total budget for the project of $180,000, which included construction of the booth, management by Spark Productions, travel expenses, event collateral and prizes/giveaways.

The council was not ready to grant approval at that time and instructed Spark Productions to work with Ocean City’s Tourism Department, Tourism Advisory Board (TAB), and the advertising firm, MGH, to develop a final consensus on the marketing initiative.

Following those meetings, in March Tourism Director Donna Abbott came before the Mayor and City Council recommending the town pursue participation in a small selection of travel shows with OC Experience in 2013, especially after she had attended a travel show in Washington D.C and acknowledged the need for Ocean City’s presence. However, she added the booth could be manned by city staff and volunteers.

Last March, the Mayor and City Council unanimously approved an $85,000 investment in the OC Experience, and with the apparent blessing from the council, Hoffman and his Spark Productions team spent the next seven months designing the interactive display booth, gathering data and conducting research in advance of the actual construction of the booth. The team was preparing to hit the first of three major trade shows next month when a snag in the plans surfaced at City Hall on Dec. 17.

At that time, Abbott told the council despite the unanimous vote on the OC Experience last spring, no memorandum of understanding (MOU) had been presented and agreed upon by the city and Spark Productions and that an alternative plan had surfaced for the consumer travel shows the city had already booked space to attend.

Abbott said the new plan was to utilize the Rodney the Lifeguard campaign at the trade shows with Rodney himself making appearances and city staffers manning the town’s displays at the events. Abbott’s plan comes in at a price tag of around $26,000, depending on whether a photo booth is leased or a photographer is hired.

The tentative agreement called for the OC Experience booth to be displayed at four major consumer travel shows in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York and Canada, along with four special events within the resort. However, the four major out-of-town events were reduced to three when it was determined two of the shows would have been redundant.

Hoffman said much of the preparation, research and design had been completed at the cost of a great amount of time, effort and expense by his team and voiced concern the lack of a formal MOU threatened to derail the project as the first major travel show date looms.

By the end of the discussion in December, a motion was made to move forward with the alternative plan for the upcoming year and revisit Spark Productions’ OC Experience plan in the future but the motion was tabled, and Abbott, City Manager David Recor and Hoffman were directed to work out the details.

This week Abbott returned to report on her and Recor’s meetings with Spark Productions, which resulted in reducing the cost to just under $70,000.

According to Abbott, cost savings was achieved by eliminating four local appearances by the OC Experience, reducing the professional service fee charged by Spark Productions from $9,000 per event to $7,500 per event, replacing the more costly New York show and eliminating the $12,000 green screen zone due to improvements in technology since the original proposal was developed.

Abbott added with the cost reduction realized there will be room to incorporate Rodney appearances in two of the shows as well as include per diem costs to allow the tourism director to attend each show to represent the town and report all results back to the Mayor and Council.

Mayor Rick Meehan was absent during the meeting on Dec. 17 but returned this week disappointed by the way business was conducted.

“It was painful to watch,” he said of the video footage of the last meeting. “Sometimes it is good to reflect on our actions and how we deliberate and in this particular case I thought it was painful.”

The mayor recalled the long history of the OC Experience concluding that the project is where it is today because of the council’s former unanimous vote and it is time to move it forward.

“David, Donna, and Brad have worked together, they have modified this proposal, they have taken some of the comments made by everybody up here and from the community and they have tried to put it all together to come up with the best package possible and allow us to follow through with a commitment the council did make in a previous vote,” he said. “The time is upon us, these shows are coming and from what I have seen I think it is time for us to move forward.”

With little further discussion, the council voted 6-0, with Councilman Dennis Dare absent, to accept the proposal of OC Experience as presented that day.

The final design of the OC Experience is a 10-foot by 20-foot three-panel portable booth with a high-definition television in each panel. One of the televisions will show nostalgic footage of vintage Ocean City from years past, while another would show videos of all the resort has to offer now. The middle panel television would offer Internet-based, interactive content providing access to information about where to stay, where to eat and what to do while visiting Ocean City. In addition, it would offer travel show attendees “beach bucks” to local businesses and offer a grand prize package vacation to the resort.

The OC Experience is scheduled to visit travel shows in Philadelphia, Jan. 26-27, Columbus, Ohio, Feb. 7-10; the Baltimore Boat Show, Feb. 28-March 3; and in Washington D.C, March 9-10.