County Supervisors approved a series of contracts with various marketing firms to provide tourism-marketing services for the County Tourism Business Improvement District.
The bundle of contracts, which totaled some $1.49 million, was divided between nine firms, with eight being for 2 years and the other for just one year.
Established in May 2009, the County Tourism Business Improvement District (CBID) originally had just one company all the marketing, according to a staff report out of the County Administrative Office. When the initial contract ended in 2018, the CBID Advisory Board began discussing splitting up the various duties of the marketing contractor into smaller pieces and contracting out each piece.
Called, “The Bid Bunch,” the new system launched in September 2018 with vendors providing services like “media, public relations, social media, website update and maintenance, project management, content curation (sic), and new photos and videos. These agreements were for under $50,000 and approved by the Administrative Office,” the report said. County Supervisors did not vote on these relatively small contracts.
The new system worked well, according to the County, and was carried over into 2019 and 2020. This past May, the advisory board recommended the contracts be for 2 years (from July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2023). However one contract was only recommended for a single year.
According to the County, the contracts approved were:
• TJA Advertising in the amount of $57,000 ($28,500 per year) to provide social management services;
• Vingage Consulting for $203,876 ($101,988 per year) to provide search engine optimization, website and email management;
• Kaitlin Sturtevant for $100,000 ($50,000 per year) to provide stewardship travel and public relations coordinator services;
• Lori Keller for ($61,500 per year) to provide marketing plan and local area management services;
• Lori Ritchey, $60,000 ($30,000 per year) to provide content management services for social media, website, and digital media services;
• Cheryl Masters Rowe, $96,000 ($48,000 per year) to provide website, content development, database, and asset management;
• A 1-year agreement with Townsend Public Relations for $88,000 ($48,000 for public relations services and $40,000 for media related services) to provide public relations and media related services;
• VinVibe for $75,000 ($37,500 per year) to provide website support and maintenance services; and,
• Orange22 for $687,200 to provide media relation services including purchasing pass thru media ($113,600 per year for media relations services and an amount for FY 2021-22 not to exceed $460,000 for pass thru media services).
The CBID is funded by a 2% charge on the cost for a room night at lodging businesses — motels, hotels, B&Bs, vacation rentals — located in the unincorporated areas of SLO County, with Avila Beach, Cayucos, Cambria and San Simeon, being the towns with the most CBID members. County general fund monies are not being used for the CBID.
As part of the CBID ordinance, half of the money (1% collected in each town) is given back to a local BID to use for promotions and supporting special events in that community.
According to the County, “The cost for the 24-month agreements is $942,076, while the cost for the 1-year agreement is $88,000. The total cost for the services as noted above will not exceed $1,030,076 over the terms of the agreements. The agreement with Orange22, Inc., provides for pass thru media in an amount not to exceed $460,000.”
So who’s minding the store? Not the County. “As a facilitator of a requested program,” reads the report, “the County has not established performance criteria beyond the legal contractual obligations to expend the funds for identified purposes. The onus is on the designated contractors that are selected by the CBID Advisory Board to meet the expectations of the lodging business owners paying the assessment.”
The CBID — administrators and governing board — will track the performance of the contractors in providing the services outlined in their scope of work.”