Duluth to review tourism marketing arrangement | The Daily Briefing

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Duluth Mayor Roger Reinert has assembled a group that will review contract parameters that will be used to hire the city’s next tourism marketing representative.

For many decades, that task had been the responsibility of Visit Duluth, which hired advertising and marketing agencies to help promote the city. But the choice of marketing partners was often  made in house, and in 2021 then-Mayor Emily Larson said more transparency was needed. She had the city issue a request for proposals (RFP) from agencies to provide the service. Out of 28 responses, no Duluth-based advertising and marketing companies advanced to the final five. Ultimately selected was Bellmont Partners, based in Minneapolis, which worked with Lawrence & Schiller of Sioux Falls, S.D., to provide the services.

Selecting a non-Duluth agency was controversial with the general public. A second decision proved to be controversial among RFP respondents. Larson had a Duluth agency, one that was not competing for the Visit Duluth contract, help evaluate the bids. Some other Duluth advertising and marketing firms did not think it was fair to be judged for the Visit Duluth work by one of their primary day-by-day competitors. Reinert said that part of the process won’t be used to evaluate future bids.

At a March 27 news conference, Reinert conceded that all marketing firms – based in Duluth or not – may respond to the RFP, but he added “I fundamentally believe … that it’s hard to tell an authentic Duluth story if you’re not a Duluthian. I do think we have amazing talent locally.”

The Tourism Marketing Working Group, he said, has just a narrow task: Decide how to structure the RFP to best serve Duluth tourism entities. The goal of this initiative, the mayor said in a news release, is to ensure funds allocated for tourism marketing are effectively invested back into the city, maximizing benefits for Duluth businesses and residents.

Karen Pionk, Sheraton Duluth Hotel general manager, was named to chair the working group.

“The Duluth tourism industry is a vital economic engine for our community,” said Pionk. “It attracts visitors from across the region and beyond to experience Duluth’s unique culture, natural beauty and vibrant community.” 

The 14-member working group was formed now because Bellmont is in the last year of its three-year contract, which expires at the end of 2023. Simultaneously, Visit Duluth’s contract will reach its conclusion.

“This is an opportunity to review what it is that we want and to discuss whether we want to be partners again,” Reinert said.

The group was scheduled to meet Wednesday afternoon. Later in the process, it will solicit public input, Pionk said.

Other group members include Lindsay Kern, Director of community relations and outreach, Kern and Kompany; Josh Miller, station manager, North Shore Scenic Railroad; Anna Tanski, executive consultant, Anna Tanski Consulting; Tom Werner, executive director, Duluth Airport Authority; Mark Mahla, director of marketing, Grandma’s Inc.; Molly Solberg, ownerMAS Marketing; Shari Marshik, executive director, Upper Midwest Film Office; Haley Hedstrom, CEO, Lake Superior Zoo; Brandon VanWaeyenberghe, executive directorDuluth Superior Symphony Orchestra; Jason Vincent, owner, JayBee Travel, Vanilla Bean Restaurant, Boat Club Restaurant; Lydia deGrood, senior manager, marketing planner, Maurices, and Terese Tomanek, Duluth City Councilor.

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