An official from the Maine Office of Tourism said Tuesday that the decision to award a one-year, $700,000 public relations contract to a New York firm was made for practical reasons.
Nancy Marshall Communications, an Augusta-based firm, has been doing public relations work for the state for the last 20 years. But beginning this week, the Dilenschneider Group will take over with the help of a partnership with Burgess Advertising and Marketing of Portland. The yearlong contract includes an option for additional years.
“We had a lot of competition this year,” George Gervais, commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, said Tuesday. “An independent review team went through the seven submissions, and this one just landed on top.”
He said that criticism about the contract being awarded to an out-of-state firm is wrong-headed.
The Dilenschneider Group “had teamed up with a Maine firm, so we absolutely have a Maine player,” Gervais said. “But just as beneficial to the state, we have a presence in one of our biggest target markets: New York City. To have a quality firm representing us there is beneficial and could help us in the long run.”
He said that it is a requirement to put contracts out to bid, and that automatically selecting Maine companies for state contracts is not a good strategy.
“We have to consider the theory of reciprocity,” Gervais said. “If other states did the same thing, we’d have many businesses in the state being put at a very strong disadvantage.”
All told, the Maine Office of Tourism spends about $9 million each year promoting Maine tourism — a roughly $7 billion industry which supports about 85,500 jobs, or 13 percent of the state’s employment.
Milwaukee-based firm BVK was awarded the office’s much larger advertising and marketing contract last year.
Efforts Tuesday to reach Marshall, who was traveling, were unsuccessful. But she wrote in a recent post on her Facebook page that she was sad to announce the state’s change in direction.
“We have enjoyed working with and for the tourism industry in Maine, and have developed wonderful relationships with the travel media here in Maine, across the country and around the world,” Marshall wrote. “It’s been a good run.”
According to the Dilenschneider Group’s winning proposal, the company will build a public relations program around “telling the inside story of Maine with real stories from real people.” The firm also intends to use social media and the Internet to “create a dialogue and a buzz” with material generated from users, including tourists, Maine aficionados and locals.
The budget includes $60,000 for the first year for a minimum of 60 travel trade group and media press trips to familiarize people with the benefits of a Maine vacation. Additionally, the Dilenschneider Group intends to hold an annual event in New York City to launch a revitalized media outreach effort. This would include bringing in Maine Insiders, from an existing publicity effort from the Maine Office of Tourism, to meet people and showcase their areas of expertise.
Meredith Strang Burgess, president and CEO of Burgess Advertising and a former Republican state representative from Cumberland, said she was thrilled to partner with the Dilenschneider Group. Her company will focus on social media and will post updates about Maine tourism on Facebook and other platforms.
“They approached us to partner with them, so they could have the local knowledge — knowing it’s important, and that Maine people like to keep their business as local as we can,” Burgess said. “We know Maine really well, and it’s always good to make sure we don’t lose track of that.”