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Tourism: Ad spending plans in limbo because board lacks members

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Decisions on ad campaigns targeting tourists for the 2012 season were left on the table last week, a table surrounded by empty chairs as the Georgetown County Tourism Commission failed to attract a quorum.

And the seven-member commission which has had two vacancies for most of the year now has a third with the resignation of Anne Hardee.

Helen Benso, who chairs the commission, said she has talked with County Council members about making it a five-member board. She has also suggested names of new members, but hasn’t heard about any pending appointments.

She and David Teems were the only members who showed up last week. Matt Giltmier and Rob Mosser were absent. In July, Benso was the only member at the meeting.

The commission has a proposal for $53,000 worth of advertising to start in January that is part of a state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism marketing program. It includes online ads on Trip Advisor and news and magazine websites along with 15 second spots on Fox television news segments in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington and Atlanta.

“This would be a great new way to promote your Hammock Coast campaign and run something like ‘Hammock Coast packages from $99,’ ” said Jason Manges, a director of the Bounce Agency in Greenville, who prepared the proposal for the commission. The agency is responsible for the PRT program and using it to place the ads will save the county over $10,000 by placing the ads through the county’s own agency.

Benso said she isn’t sure of the deadline to accept the plan, but she knows it is soon, and plans to call a special meeting to get the commission to vote on it.

The lack of a quorum also left the commission unable to commit to a $9,600 package of golf ads prepared by its agency, Rawle Murdy Associates, that would start running in January. Some of the funds were already approved for a September campaign that was cut short.

“We can’t move on this today,” Benso said.

But John Kautz, the account director for Rawle Murdy, pointed out that some of the websites included in the campaign are identical to the ones the commission approved for September.

Benso told him to place the ads.

“This is really becoming a problem,” she said after the meeting.

County Council Member Austin Beard, who chairs the tourism subcommittee, said he is aware of the concerns. He plans to meet with Council Member Jerry Oakley and Sel Hemingway, the county administrator, about the vacancies on the commission.

All county boards have seven members, one for each council district. But Beard said it may be better to go with five for the tourism commission.

“It would be easier to find people,” he said.

Those appointments are made by the full council, rather than individual members, since the members are supposed to be involved with the tourism industry.

Beard said the decision was put on hold while a tourism marketing director was hired. That post was filled this week by Meredith Hart.

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