Over the next five months, the TDA will pay Myrtle Beach, S.C.-based Brandon Agency $100,000 to place ads and manage Jackson County’s overall branding while coordinating with Mary Ann Baker of Sylva-based INNsight Internet Marketing for a $10,000 social media contract and Atlanta-based Pineapple Advertising for a $12,000 contract to pitch articles to publications for non-paid advertising. In June, when the TDA looks to adopt a more permanent solution, it will be working with a year-long marketing budget of between $200,000 and $300,000.
“(I’m) super excited,” said Robert Jumper, TDA chairman, in a follow-up interview. “It will give us the people who have experience with Jackson County and people who have experience with marketing who can move the ball forward.”
Of the board’s 16 voting members, 10 were present. While six of them favored hiring all three agencies, the other four were not so enthusiastic.
“It just seems like we worked all year trying to get this [marketing contract] through, and now all of a sudden we started backtracking on that,” said Mickey Luker, a TDA board member. “We had said at our last meetings that we were trying to get away from the piecemeals of it and come up with one plan.”
“One overall plan would be far better than all these little pieces,” said board member Merrily Teasley.
Teasley then moved to amend Jumper’s motion to hire all three companies to instead hire Brandon for all responsibilities except for social media, which she said should stay with INNsights. Because INNsights is local, it would be able to take photos for instant online posting, something non-local firms could not do.
The amendment was defeated 4 to 6, with Julie Stockton and Ken Fernandez joining Teasley and Luker, while Clifford Meads, Brien Peterkin, Ashley Faulkner, Mary Lanning, Debra Watson and Jumper voted against it.
That vote was soon followed by a vote on Jumper’s original motion to hire all three companies. The board passed his motion 6 to 4, split along the same lines.
“We do want to make sure we take the right steps, and that is the whole purpose of having these agencies,” Jumper said. “We need more information than what we’ve got to make this decision.”
That’s part of the reason that Jumper favored the five-month trial period. The three companies will have until the beginning of the next fiscal year to show the TDA how well they are able to coordinate to meet the county’s marketing needs. The contracts have a 30-day clause written into them, which means that either the TDA or the agency can terminate the agreement with 30 days of notice, yet another measure, Jumper said, that makes this decision decidedly nonpermanent.
“Talking about this is a bridge,” Jumper said.
In the interim, the board will have the opportunity to consider other firms in addition to evaluating the performance of the three it just hired. The goal, Jumper said, is to find the firms that offer the best combination of local knowledge and marketing expertise for furthering Jackson County’s tourism industry and kicking off its new slogan, “Play On.”
“We’re all trying to do the same thing,” he said.