On Tuesday, April 6th, the Redding City Council will vote to award the city’s tourism marketing contract. It’s worth $5 million over the next five years.
For the last ten years, the marketing contract has been held by the Redding Tourism Marketing Group. With the contract due to expire in June, it was reviewed by the Community Services Advisory Commission (CSAC) which recommended to the Council that they renew the contract. Instead, the Council voted to put the contract out for proposal after Council member Julie Winter suggested it was in the city’s best interest to do so.
Eighteen organizations submitted proposals for the contract. That number was narrowed to five by a committee that included Council members Erin Resner and Kristin Schreder as well as two members of CSAC. During recent interviews, two more organizations were eliminated from the running, leaving the final three: the Redding Chamber of Commerce, Augustine Agency, and Mayes Media.
The city’s Request for Qualifications for the contract includes the category “Relevant Experience,” asking agencies to provide a minimum of 5 references for previous contracts of similar size and scope. But the resulting proposals, included in the City Council’s agenda packet for the April 6th meeting, demonstrate surprising variability in experience level between the three final contestants for the contract.
Augustine Agency, located in Roseville, California, is the only outside organization still in the running. According to their website, they have been working in the marketing field for 25 years. Relevant work experience includes their branding campaign for the City of Napa where they increased transient occupancy tax (TOT), one of the best indicators of tourism, by 89% over four years. Their focus areas for branding and marketing include food, destination, and home builder/developer. In their marketing proposal, they list 6 established relationships with tourism partners, including Conejo Valley, Torrance, North Lake Tahoe, and Siskiyou County.
The Redding Chamber of Commerce, another finalist, proposes to work with an outside marketing agency, DCI, allowing the Chamber to leverage it’s local connections while utilizing DCI’s branding and marketing experience. DCI has worked in the branding and marketing industry for over 75 years, according to their website, and is part of a $10 billion dollar company, composed of 125 independent businesses. Based on experience listed on their website, DCI has worked with major brands in the areas of transportation, beauty, and consumer electronics but has not previously been involved in destination marketing.
Notably, Redding’s RFQ for the tourism/marketing contract highlights a project advanced by the Chamber, the Redding City Identity Project, as a model for future marketing efforts, stating that the city seeks to build on the momentum of the Identity Project in their search for a new brand image. Chamber membership comes at a cost to local businesses that ranges from $200–1000 annually and results in a significant increase in visibility and repeat business, according to their site. Would paid members continue to receive special marketing benefits if the Chamber received the contract to provide city-wide marketing? Barry Tippin, Redding’s city manager, said that if the contract was awarded to the Chamber that issue would be discussed. Jake Mangas, President and CEO of the Chamber, did not respond to request for comment. The Chamber has also endorsed political candidates, including Julie Winter, who suggested the tourism/marketing contract be put out to bid.
Mayes Media, also a finalist for the contract, is a collective of local marketing professionals. The team, co-founded by Debbie and Gabriel Mayes, refers to itself as “award winning,” a term which seems apply to individual members of the team rather than the current collective which appears to be newly formed. As part of their proposal for the tourism contract, Mayes Media bought a domain closely mimicking the city’s own to promote their marketing message. They launched dual brand strategies for Redding directly on the site, incorporating A/B testing and email harvesting, and using the tag line: “Let’s Make Redding Famous.” The couple arrived in Redding several years ago, after selling their home and moving into a converted school bus. Their family and the bus have been featured on Zillow, Apartment Therapy and Anthropologie. The Mayes Team, LLC includes their personal brand as well as the Maisey brand, which provides website-building and marketing techniques to other businesses. The couple shares more of their reasons for coming to Redding and their personal story in a video interview with Bethel Church’s Moral Revolution. (Please be aware that the video contains explicit sexual discussions.)
Concerns about fairness with regards to the city’s tourism marketing contract have arisen, likely due to disparities in how some recent contract renewals appear to have been handled by the Council. At a recent Council meeting, in contrast with the marketing tourism contract process, the City did not vote to put Advance Redding’s contract to manage the Civic Center out for RFP, deciding instead to look into renegotiating the existing contract. That contract has not yet been renewed. Over the weekend, Elizabeth Betancourt, a small farm owner who recently challenged Megan Dahle for the District 1 Assembly seat, publicly questioned the city’s contract process.
Barry Tippin, Redding’s city manager, told Shasta Scout that the Redding Civic contract and Redding tourism contract are unique situations, each requiring the Council to make appropriate decisions based on multiple factors. He cited the City’s ordinance for purchasing which includes a provision allowing the Council not to put contracts out to bid when they are “under conditions representing best value to the city taking into consideration values other than solely price.”
It’s not clear how “best value” would be determined by the Council in these circumstances, but asked if the ordinance represents a loophole in the city’s commitment to full and open competition, Tippin disagreed, stating that as written the ordinance allows Council members to make the decisions that they feel represent the best value to their community.