Creating a Brand
In June 2011, the city of Pensacola accepted proposals for a three-year contract to provide marketing and advertising services. For nearly two decades, the Pensacola-based E.W. Bullock Associates had handled those services for the city’s enterprise operations—Port of Pensacola, Energy Services of Pensacola and the Pensacola International Airport.
The new contract would involve more than those entities. The mayor wanted to combined these contracts and “create a city-wide branding effect.” According to the Request for Proposal (RFP), the intent was to use the branding opportunity “to tell the Pensacola story,” spur economic development and “create a stronger, more marketable City identity.”
The submittals would be evaluated based on ability and experience of the firm, particularly with branding, airports and natural gas companies; qualifications and experience of proposed staff; and the minority, advantage and/or small business certifications of the firm.
The top three or five might be interviewed or asked to make oral presentations. The mayor would make the final selection and conduct contract negotiations. ( See RFP-11021-Marketing)
On Sept. 9, George Maiberger, the city purchase director, notified the 17 applicants that the list had been narrowed to nine firms. Local firms E.W. Bullock Associates, idgroup and BPM, which had partnered with the Zimmerman Agency, were among the nine. A selection committee would reduce the list to three or four firms that would make oral presentations to the mayor.
The selection committee included Michael Kenney, Angela Cocke, Chris Bogan and Ashley Hodge. They scored the nine firms based on the written submissions. Gold & Associates from Ponte Verde, Fla. barely beat out Zimmerman as the top pick. The other finalists were Noise, Inc. of Sanibel, Fla. and Bullock. Only Cocke had ranked Zimmerman as her top pick. (See 11-021 Combined Reviews and Ranking)
On Oct. 14, Maiberger sent the selection committee’s scoring sheets to the City Administrator. By the next Monday, he scheduled the oral presentations for the mayor, City Administrator Bill Reynolds and Travis Peterson, who handled the city’s communications, for the four finalists on Oct. 26 and 27. (See presentation)
The purchasing director wrote Reynolds in November that Bullock, Gold and Noise had been notified that Mayor Hayward had chosen Zimmerman and the agency was preparing a scope of work.
Curtis Zimmerman, the head of the agency, gave the city two options (TZA initial proposal) on how the agency would be paid:
Option A was based on a comprehensive fee with the outlined scope-of-services covered under one monthly fee.
Option B was based on a base level fee to cover the day-to-day work for brand development, strategic planning/counsel, public relations, advertising account management and social media. Under this option, those services not covered by the base fee would be billed at the published hourly rate.
Zimmerman argued, “At the end of the day the benefit to option A is the comprehensive nature of the approach without worrying about any hourly billing—you won’t be worried about our time, and we won’t feel reluctant to provide services due to the hourly charges.”
The comprehensive monthly fee that Zimmerman proposed under Option A was $62,750.
According to city emails received through a public record request, Melinda Crawford, the airport director, Chief of Staff John Asmar and Peterson had problems with using Option A.
Peterson wrote, “I’m inclined to take the Option B—at least early on to determine our level of use. We may see that a retainer is fine, and it’s easier for everyone that way, but early on it might be helpful to make sure we’re ‘in the ball park.’”
He also asked, “What portion of the fee is paying for the Birdwell firm?” (See Peterson 111711)
Two weeks later after discussions with Reynolds, Maiberger and Peterson, Zimmerman reduced his proposal to initially only cover the brand development and strategic planning. The contract would be for the first quarter of 2012 for a base monthly fee of $27,500.
While everyone was waiting for Mayor Hayward to make a decision, Curtis Zimmerman sent the group an email on Dec. 14, 2011 about outside interference— “I’m not sure how Brian Spencer (Pensacola City Council, District 6) fits into all this.”
He said that he had gotten a call and a few text messages that Spencer was excited about his involvement and was pushing the Mayor to move forward. The individual appears to be Jane Birdwell of BPM, who apparently hadn’t been told that she was dropped from the Zimmerman team.
“I have had nothing to do with anyone lobbying for us, or trying to move this forward beyond the conversations between the four of us,” Zimmerman wrote. “I’m not sure about the relationship between the individual and Brian, but I don’t want to get caught up in politics before we even get going.” (See CZ Advice)
Councilman Brian Spencer told the Independent News that he had no involvement with the selection of Zimmerman and that he had not met Curtis Zimmerman until the mayor had chosen the firm. He said that he didn’t know Zimmerman but did remember agency representative Jill Reading, who was a daughter of a local banker.
“I did provide—I call it— a kind of ‘windshield survey of Pensacola,’” Spencer said. “I wanted to make sure that they saw a more in-depth version of Pensacola as opposed to let’s just look at the veneer. I wanted to make sure they saw the unique characteristics of our neighborhoods.”
He downplayed his role with the ad agency. Spencer said, “I was never asked to participate in anything beyond what I would call as conceptual.”
However, city mails show that the councilman’s involvement with Zimmerman was much more than a “windshield survey.” In January 2012, he asked Reading to write a letter endorsing his secretive efforts to stop a wayfinding signage program that the Downtown Improvement Board was ready to approve. The signage program had been discussed by the DIB for more than six months.
“The Mayor and I feel it would be nice to have a brief letter from you (not the proposal) that sets the stage for his administration’s role in transforming the city’s image (especially visual) from yesteryear to the FUTURE,” Spencer wrote Reading. “This effort will include signage for districts, venues, and general wayfinding—thus, the implementation of the wayfinding package that has been developed under the direction of the DIB may be counterproductive and contradict and/or confuse the branding message that the Zimmerman Agency is formulating.” (Spencer_Reading )
When the February DIB agenda packet was sent out, Spencer wrote the city administrator and chief of staff to make sure they would present the Zimmerman Agency letter and the mayor’s and his position against the sign program.
“Please confirm Mayor’s representative(s) will attend AND deliver a definitive and strong message regarding the Mayor’s non-support of this DIB initiative (which is consistent with Curtis Zimmerman’s/Zimmerman Agency evaluation and recommendation),” Spencer wrote Reynolds and Asmar. “I have been consistently criticized by fellow DIB Board members and audience participants for postpone [sic] and cancel [sic] this project.” (Spencer_DIB)
Asmar and Reynolds attended the meeting. The DIB board voted to table the sign program. A year later, the no new wayfinding signs have been installed.
City emails also show that Spencer provided advice on how Zimmerman should roll out its branding initiative, was kept in the loop on contract negotiations and pushed the mayor to give the Zimmerman Agency the marketing contracts for the airport, gas utility and port, which the mayor did in March 2012.
The new contract covered all city advertising, marketing and public relations. Option A was chosen with the city and its enterprises paying a monthly retainer that totaled $39,500.
Purchasing Director Maiberger sent out a memo (March 14 2012 GM TZA Contract) to the department heads that broke down the monthly fee as follows:
MIS/PIO Office: $11,667
City Administrator: $4,167
Neighborhood Services: $4,167