The hunt for a new advertising agency is underway, and after receiving 10 proposals from companies across the country, Ocean City officials plan to narrow the list down to three or five by the end of the week.
But since the proposals were submitted on Nov. 1, one company, TBC, has been removed from the running due to a conflict of interest.
Initially, the proposals were to be reviewed by members of the Ocean City Tourism Commission and elected officials, though that has been reduced to a trio of individuals.
The trio is made up of Director of Tourism and Business Development Tom Perlozzo, Communications and Marketing Director Jessica Waters, and Andrea Vernot of Choptank Communications, who was brought on as a consultant to help develop a marketing and branding strategy.
On Wednesday, city officials were made aware that the consultant, Vernot, is married to someone with ties to TBC, which submitted a bid for the advertising contract.
Mayor Rick Meehan, Council President Matt James, Perlozzo, Waters, and City Solicitor Heather Stansbury met on Thursday morning and decided to remove TBC from the running. Vernot will remain on board as a consultant.
Questions regarding the process of selecting an ad agency were prompted earlier this month when the bids submitted in response to the city’s solicitation were announced.
The typical proceeding of announcing bids for most projects for the city start with an opening of the envelope, the reading of the company who submitted the bid, and the amount of the bid. When the advertising bids were announced, the amounts were omitted.
All 10 packages containing a creative element and pricing element were remanded to staff for review. Miller said earlier this month that the bids were not read out loud because of proprietary information. He also said the packages would be reviewed by members of the tourism commission, or citizens.
The late City Solicitor Guy Ayres, however, opined on this very thing, saying the proposals can be restricted to elected officials or open to the public, which includes members of the Tourism Commission – the documents are either open to the public or not.
The process has since changed, and will only include Perlozzo, Waters, and Vernot.
Still, the question of why the pricing was not provided in open session lingers.
During Monday night’s City Council meeting, Councilman John Gehrig referenced the tourism commission meeting earlier that day, when Waters said the city’s request for proposals were provided on Nov. 1, but the financials were excluded.
“Were they not submitted?” James asked Stansbury.
“No,” she said. “Mr. Perlozzo brought this to my attention.”
Stansbury said she reached out to Miller, who had the day off, and he said he would investigate it ASAP.
“I’m hoping it was an oversight and will be corrected for Tom before he needs it,” she added.
Gehrig said the city would be deciding on what’s provided in the proposal as well as price.
“Right. We need to know what’s included in the price to make sure there’s no duplications in services,” Perlozzo said.
Stansbury said she saw no reason why the financials would not be released.
On Wednesday, Miller concurred the advertising bid amounts would be released.
As the group reviews the bids, he said, it is important for them to review the creative piece first before reviewing the financials to ensure neither influences the other.
More than likely, Miller added, the prices associated with each bid will be released when the group is finished with their reviews.
Still, there is another piece to this.
Although the finalists will be whittled down from 10 to three or five by the end of the week, they are expected to give their presentations to City Council members sometime between the end of the week and Dec. 6 in a closed session.
On Dec. 6, according to what Perlozzo said during the tourism commission meeting on Monday, he hopes to have a recommendation of an ad agency for council to approve.
“It’s all exciting,” he said. “We’re moving along ... I hope to have the process wrapped up by early December.”