Buying big: How did former Vidalia administration spend more than $450,000 in marketing?

Published 2:44 am Sunday, January 15, 2017


Vidalia — An examination of the Town of Vidalia’s expense ledger indicates the town’s previous administration spent heavily on marketing and advertising, much of which the current mayor says had to be cut out.

In Mayor Buz Craft’s first six months at the helm of Vidalia, marketing was one of the two big cuts he announced would be included in the amended 2016-17 budget.

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Looking back at the 2015-16 budget, Vidalia spent more than $450,000 on marketing — approximately $325,000 in just the advertising budget.

That’s more than $100 in marketing expense for every man, woman and child who lives in the town.

Much of the advertising budget was spent on regional magazines and television and radio stations in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Craft said the advertising spending figures do not include unpaid invoices the new administration was forced to pay when it took over and the marketing budget does not include travel.

Craft said the travel budget was “substantial,” but he was not able to locate an amount for it by Thursday. The town’s marketing department budgeted $20,000 for travel, but Craft said he estimated the two-person department spent more than $20,000.

Craft said one of the big ticket items he cut out when he came into office was Retail Strategies, which is a company that does feasibility studies and markets towns. Craft said the previous administration was spending $12,500 every quarter with this company.

In 2015-16 the town budgeted approximately $75,000 for television and radio ads, but spent approximately $153,000, with approximately $90,0000 of that spent out of market.

Local big ticket items include approximately $30,000 being spent with Paul Brooks’ BCS Productions, though the town only budgeted $5,000, and approximately $25,000 being spent with the Big River Broadcasting network, out of a budgeted $5,000.

Out-of-market, big ticket items include approximately $27,000 being spent on advertising with WAFB in Baton Rouge and approximately $59,000 spent with WDSU and WWL TV, both in New Orleans.

The town was under its $35,160 budget for WAFB, but only budgeted $15,000 for WDSU and WWL.

The magazine and newspaper budget for 2015-16 was set at $43,000, but approximately $110,000 was spent, with approximately $40,000 of that being with out-of-market publications.

The largest out-of-market expenses were to Country Roads magazine at approximately $20,000, Blue South Publications, which produces Road Legends, at $7,760, The Baton Rouge Advocate at $4,200 and the Woodville Republican at approximately $4,100.

The town budgeted $8,000 for Country Roads, $10,000 for Legends and $0 for both The Advocate and the Republican.

Locally, The Natchez Democrat received the largest dollar amount at approximately $28,000. The town budgeted $5,000 for ads in The Democrat.

The town’s newspaper of record for public notice advertising, The Concordia Sentinel, received approximately $26,000. The town budgeted $20,000 for the Sentinel.

The town spent $12,250 on advertising in Bluffs and Bayous, but budgeted $0.

On local organizations, including school sports teams, the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race and Ferriday Rotary Club, the town spent approximately $13,000.

For tourism purposes, including the Louisiana Travel Promotion Association and Visit Natchez, the town spent approximately $9,050.

One oddity listed amongst the checks disbursed by the marketing department in 2015-16 were payments to Howie’s Cajun Dust, a spice company. The town budgeted $0 for Howie’s but spent $4,022.

Craft said when he was going over the monies spent on out-of-town advertising, it was “eye opening.” Craft said his administration would be making a change in advertising philosophy to focus more on local publications.

“We are only going to spend money on advertising beneficial to the people and inform them on things coming up that are important,” Craft said.

Craft announced in 2016 he had cut the marketing budget down by more than $250,000, and on Thursday he said should the amended budget be approved by aldermen, the marketing budget would be approximately $150,000, with $90,000 being dedicated to advertising.

Vidalia Marketing Coordinator Hannah Junkin said the advertising budget would primarily be local advertising, but would also include some non-local such as a yearly ad with the Louisiana Travel Promotion Association.

“Other than some tourism stuff, if it’s not local, we don’t do it,” Junkin said. “And we did lower the amounts spent in (tourism publications).”

Junkin said one aspect the town would utilize more would be social media, specifically Facebook and its three pages, the City of Vidalia, the Convention Center and the Recreation Fields. Junkin said the town had also recently created one for the animal shelter.

“We are still going to utilize the free marketing through social media for most things,” Junkin said. “A big thing we are working on right now is a complete overhaul of the two websites, the city and the convention center. We have been updating the websites more often than they used to be, too.”

Craft said he believed Vidalia should focus its advertising efforts on helping the local residents, not trying to reel in tourists from New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

“We need to advertise things that could affect people’s every day living,” Craft said. “And we will always have an open door with our local publications, and I’d like to say, the same policy is open for any citizen. I welcome the opportunity to answer any questions you may have.”