By DOTTY NIST
Impressed by the Zehnder advertising agency’s knowledge of the local area and staff qualifications, among other factors, South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC) members have voted in favor of proceeding with negotiations to make Zehnder their new advertising consultant.
The decision, which will result in a recommendation to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) to proceed with the negotiations, took place at a TDC special meeting on Aug. 8 at the Bayou Arts Center.
Fifteen companies had responded to the TDC’s request for proposals (RFP) for an advertising agency. A five-member TDC review panel reviewed and scored each RFP and then identified the top four companies, who were each brought in for a 20-minute presentation and a 20-minute session of questions from the panel.
The four top-rated companies included BVK, Sapient Nitro, Sullivan Branding, and Zehnder Communications.
TDC Executive Director Dawn Moliterno said all four finalists had done well in the presentations and question and answer sessions, but that one, Zehnder, had “pulled away” from the rest.
TDC member Scott Russell, who had served on the panel, explained that not only had Zehnder demonstrated an excellent knowledge of the area, but that the company has offices in key market areas for south Walton, including New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Nashville. He said Zehnder had also indicated that they would be able to deliver the Visit South Walton mobile app through Apple.
Russell added that the panel felt that the Zehnder representatives had answered all their questions very well and had shown that they “understood who we were.”
Moliterno said she had been impressed with the qualifications of Zehnder’s staff and with their progressive ideas. The company, she continued, had provided assurance that they would be able to meet the county’s financial policies, including the policy that payment would be provided after receipt of services rather than in advance. Only an agency with financial stability is able to comply with such a policy, Moliterno noted.
She said Zehnder had also assured the committee that they would be able to adhere to all public records requirements, including backing up, capturing and archiving social media, which had been a challenge for the industry statewide.
TDC member Richard Veldman asked if Zehnder was representing any nearby tourism entity in competition with south Walton. Moliterno responded that they were not and had stated that, while serving as the South Walton TDC’s advertising agency, they would not pursue any such contracts.
In response to a question, Moliterno said that only one out of the 15 advertising agencies who responded to the RFP was a local company, Cornerstone Marketing and Advertising.
A motion to recommend to the BCC that the TDC begin contract negotiations with Zehnder was approved unanimously, with the provision that negotiations with runner-up Sapient Nitro would proceed if for some reason negotiations with Zehnder were unsuccessful.
Moliterno said that plans were for the results of the negotiations to be brought before the council members at their Sept. 11 regular meeting for a vote—and to the BCC later that day for final approval.
In other action at the Aug. 8 meeting, the council members voted in favor of entering into a $150,000 agreement with Mat Media, providing for an entire episode of “Emeril’s Florida” to be filmed in and devoted to Walton County. This is a new Cooking Channel program featuring renowned chef Emeril Lagasse. If the agreement is approved, the program would air in 2013. Among other services, the contract includes six television commercials and six promotional billboards.
The tourism council’s recommendation in favor of the media agreement was scheduled to go before the BCC on Aug. 14 for final approval.
The next TDC meeting, the regular quarterly meeting, is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Sept. 11 at the Bayou Arts Center.