Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

HERE'S THE PITCH Ad Agency Competition a Battle of Nerves

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

HERE'S THE PITCH Ad Agency Competition a Battle of Nerves

Article excerpt

Byline: Moshay Simpson, Times-Union business writer

Three advertising agencies.

One $1.5 million account.

Winner takes all.

This is a game of survival.

This is the true story of how a selection committee from the St. Johns Tourist Development Council settled on an advertising agency to promote this county's conventions and tourism industry into the next half-decade. Names have not been changed to protect the innocent.

It all started Wednesday morning, June 27. Actually it all started April 1, but things got interesting June 27.

The place, a conference room in historic Casa Monica hotel in St. Augustine.

It was the final selection process in a three-month review of advertising agencies. The selection committee had whittled its list of 18 candidates down to three: incumbent agency of record Gold & Associates Inc. of Ponte Vedra Beach, Jacksonville-based Dalton Agency and The Meridian Group, based in Virginia Beach, Va., with an office in Fort Lauderdale.

The committee wanted another look at the trio, so it invited them back for a second round of presentations that involved answering nine to 10 pointed questions in front of the five-member group and Glenn Hastings, executive director of St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors & Conventions Bureau.

"You don't want to take a lateral move," Hastings said about picking an agency. "That doesn't make sense. We have to leap forward. ... Advertising is a lot more than pretty pictures. It has to be effective."

It was evident Hastings had grander plans for St. Johns County. The question was how to realize those aspirations. One of these three agencies was the key. One of these agencies had the right stuff and it was up to each of them to make its case in an intellectual, no-holds-barred, battle royale.

Was The Meridian Group that agency? It was first up to bat, scheduled for an 8:30 a.m. start.

"It is very much a competitive atmosphere," The Meridian Group's Peter Heinz said about agency presentations. "You get up for it, you get psyched for it. The adrenaline is going." Being the outsiders of the three agencies, Heinz and company knew it had to overcome the Dalton Agency and Gold & Associates' home-field advantage. His group, headed by agency founder Joseph Takach and Steven Friedman, looked the committee dead on and hung their account on its ability to foster cross-promotional opportunities with the county and their existing clients like Southwest Airlines and Fox Sports Net Florida.

Their presentation spilled into the 9 o'clock hour. Meanwhile outside, the tension was as thick as pea soup in the winter. But one would never know by looking at the agencies' between presentations. Jim Dalton, president and chief executive officer of Dalton Agency, had a relaxed crew, while Keith Gold, president and chief executive officer of Gold & Associates sat and chatted, cool as cucumbers. …

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