City debates GBA marketing
The Georgetown Business Association is asking Georgetown City Council to increase its budget for marketing the city from the current level of $80,000 to $297,000 for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
After this week’s council budget workshop two things seem almost certain. The GBA will receive funding for the upcoming year but the organization will not receive $297,000.
How much the agency will receive is expected to be decided when council meets May 22.
The marketing funds come from Accommodations Taxes and, according to City Administrator Chris Carter, once other tourism-related projects are funded, there will only be about $105,000 left in that account.
That means in order to fulfill the GBA request, that account would be depleted plus at least $190,000 would have to be taken from the city’s reserves.
One of the main points of contention amongst council is whether CASE Solutions of Pawleys Island should remain the advertising agency. CASE has been handling the marketing campaign for the city since being selected by the GBA in 2011.
Some councilmembers, including Brendon Barber, want the GBA to seek Requests for Proposals (RFP) from advertising agencies rather than continue to stick with CASE which was chosen without going through that process.
“Ad agencies are a dime a dozen. I have concerns about CASE that we are not getting our bang for our buck,” Barber said. “We don’t have transparency.”
Barber said in his travels he has never seen any digital advertising for the city.
“I am not opposed to marketing the city but it has to be done the proper way,” he said.
Rudolph Bradley agreed. He said, as a taxi driver, he sees tourism has increased in the city but he has been given nothing by the GBA to show the advertising campaign can be credited for that increase.
“They have been unable to tell me how much money is coming in because of the advertisements. Until they show me the dollar figures, it will be hard for me to support it,” Bradley said.
Mayor Jack Scoville, who wants to see CASE remain the ad agency at least one more year, said the types of advertising taking place “cannot be that specific.”
He said he talks to business owners all over the city who say things are getting better and they feel the ad campaigns have helped.
“They tell me it’s better. Not a lot better but better than last year,” Scoville said.
Councilman Paige Sawyer said the way to prove the ads are working is to look at the amount the city collects in Hospitality Taxes — the extra taxes charged on hotel rooms and bed and breakfasts.
“In the past three years there has been an increase,” he said.
One of the methods being used by CASE is advertising in national magazines.
Councilmember Peggy Wayne said she is a subscriber to some of the magazines where the ads are supposed to be placed but she said she has never seen any of the ads.
Wayne also shared concerns she has about a festival that was held last year called Rock the Equinox.
Some parts of the event were paid for with city funds given to the GBA for marketing.
Wayne said when she was the organizer of the annual Harborwalk Festival, which received some A-Tax funding, she was required to file a report showing how the A-Tax funds were spent.
“I had to prove where every bit of it went,” she said, adding she was also required to call hotels to see if the festival helped put heads in beds and there were people watching to see if visitors were eating in local restaurants on Harborwalk days.
She said the GBA was not required to show how their festival benefited the city.
Bradley said he wants to see stipulations put on whatever funding is allotted to the GBA.
“Mrs. Wayne said she gets the magazines but has never seen anything about Georgetown. Does this ad agency deserve the money? We need stipulations in place to make sure the job is getting done or there needs to be a reimbursement to taxpayers,” Bradley said.
Scoville said one reason he does not want to change agencies at this point is because it would mean the city would not be marketed this summer.
Councilwoman Jeanette Ard said ads that will be published this summer have already been purchased so soliciting RFPs would not cause a problem.
By law, the designated marketing firm for the city receives a percentage of the A-Tax funds. Council was told this year that would amount to around $27,000.
Ard suggested that be the amount awarded to the GBA. She said since the creation of the marketing campaign has already taken place, that amount will be sufficient until the RFPs take place.
“We need someone to market the city as a whole. Not just to tourists,” Ard said.
Carter will come up with three different options for funding the GBA. Council is expected to choose one of the three at its next meeting.
By Scott Harper
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