Friday, July 15, 2011

PR Disaster: When Government Interferes, We All Lose

The recent buzz about the region's new branding campaign has many of us already gone from scratching our heads, to banging them against the wall. So typical of what government is known for, the issue was that a few elite decision makers in the halls of local government decided on a whim that the storied "Cape Fear" moniker was bad for business. Suddenly a problem was artificially created out of thin air. Just like all other problems that the government creates, the only solution, obviously, is to take money out of people's pockets by force to try and solve it.

The Wilmington/Cape Fear Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau (which will rename itself as well) and the New Hanover County Tourism Development Authority issued a request for proposal last December seeking an agency of record for marketing the region. The RFP states:

FY11-12 budget and scope of work will be determined in April 2011. The total FY10-11 marketing budget is $548,000. The marketing programs, creative and paid advertising schedule for FY10-11 (July 1, 2010-June 30, 2011) is approximately $390,000 and includes the following:
Interactive Media
Media Placement
Campaign PPC
Creative Development
Social Media
*Web creative

When asked, Commissioner Jason Thompson could not provide an immediate answer to "what is the difference between the Tourism Development Authority and the Wilmington/Cape Fear Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau?" It turns out that they are sort of one in the same; and sort of not. Commissioner Thompson did call back to explain; and agreed that it was quite confusing to understand. Perhaps when dipping into the room tax for funding each year, the two entities suddenly become individual agencies? Answers are certainly in short supply.

For the kind of money offered in that RFP, you'd think that we could do better than "Wilmington. River District & Island Beaches". First of all, in these economic times, companies are forced to not only cut back, but to almost cut out their marketing budgets altogether. For the same reason, families and tourists are unable to vacation as they used to. However, there's never a bad time to spend money in government; especially when it comes to things that government was not designed to do or provide.

Our local economy relies heavily on tourism dollars, and because of that, there is a multitude of different companies that serve the tourist consumer. These companies know their brands and know their products, and they are responsible for marketing that message to the consumer. Since when did it become a boilerplate function of government to subsidize these efforts with their own marketing campaign? The reason why this is a self-defeating act is that by only taking money out of our economy can government do anything. Room taxes, charged to the very tourists targeted by these efforts, pay for this marketing. Therefore, to pay for these expensive marketing campaigns, as well as the convention center, and beach renourishment - those taxes have to be pretty high. Paying high room taxes is a detrimental factor to tourists visiting our region. So by extension, it could be said that the more government interference in regional marketing, the less tourism it produces.

Perhaps the most aggravating element to all of this; despite that we got a sub-mediocre effort for over a half a million dollars; despite the fact that "Cape Fear" is a very well known, ubiquitous, and distinctive moniker, and will now be destroyed for no reason; despite the fact that the excessive layers, cost, and clumsiness of government is making our economic plight worse; is the fact that all of this has taken place without the consent of the people that live here, and pay the taxes.

A few self-anointed elites, safely insulated from the trials of reality and the sting of pragmatism; empower themselves intellectual authority over us all, self-declare what is to be our plight, and then prescribe the remedy. Of course, the rest of us are not smart enough to even understand their superiority - much less question it. Since they have dubbed the geographic term "Cape Fear" as being a negative - even though those who grew up with it, and enjoy its uniqueness, and even realize that it is that term responsible in large part for our having any national recognition as a geographic destination; it needs to be replaced with something much more subdued, vanilla, and conservative.

Connie Nelson, of the Wilmington Cape Fear Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau puts us in our place, since scrutiny of the measure simply reveals one's stupidity:

In destination marketing, the primary objective is to promote the destination from a geographical perspective. The secondary objective is to create a sense of place in the mind of the visitors. In this day of GPS technology, it is imperative to lead with an actual destination name over that of an obscure brand name. The beach towns have graciously set aside individual destination marketing to allow the dominant destination brand – Wilmington – to take center stage. For the first time in more than 20 years, Wilmington is being positioned as the lead “portal” through which vacationers locate, consider and eventually experience our vacation paradise. Name recognition is exponentially enhanced by branding the single destination “Wilmington, NC”, versus an obscure name like ‘Cape Fear Coast’.

Naming our region something that in no way stands out against any other coastal destination out there is the solution to all of our economic problems, and you were too stupid to see it. Thank God we have the downtown elitist machinery looking out for us - who knows what would have happened if we had left the term alone, saved the money, lowered the room tax rate for tourists, and focused on core functions of government only. We certainly aren't intelligent enough to know; and that's just a chance that we aren't willing to take.


Tourism Development Authority taps officers

Tourism Development Authority budget adoption hearing Monday

City of Wilmington - Tourism Development Authority

ONLINE UPDATE: River, beaches illustrated by new TDA logo

Some visitors fond of ‘Cape Fear Coast' name

Connie Nelson of WCFCCVB Reaction to Public Scrutiny