Panama City Beach in the New York Times

In a very interesting article posted in the New York Times, Panama City Beach was mentioned as one of the popular vacation destinations working hard to survive in the current economy. In several recent TDC and CVB meetings, Dan Rowe, chairman of the TDC, has praised Panama City Beach as a destination that has economically clutched the black ink while other destinations have slipped deeper into the red. This sentiment was again expressed by Mr. Rowe in the New York Times.

He was quoted as saying,

“The subtler sell is a hallmark of several campaigns intended to stimulate summer travel. For instance, the Convention and Visitors Bureau in Panama City Beach, Fla., is starting an online campaign with the YouTube unit of Google. Users who upload video clips to YouTube may see ads inviting them to enter a video creation competition sponsored by Panama City Beach (realfuncontest.com), with $50,000 in cash and prizes.

“There’s a lot of destinations that have had a tougher go of it than we have,” said Dan Rowe, president and chief executive of the Panama City Beach bureau, “but it’s tough here.”

“Demand has not come up to meet an increase in supply” of hotel and motel rooms, he added, “so rates are suffering; there’s deals to be had.” The campaign for the video contest is from Jennifer Barbee Inc. in Austin, Tex.; it is part of a summer marketing initiative by Ypartnership in Orlando, Fla.”

What I found most interesting NYT article, which focused on the difficult time vacation destinations are having economically, was the places on which it chose to focus. In the article you hear the big name destinations like Miami, Mexico, The Cayman Islands and even quotes from Travelocity representatives. My question is why did Panama City Beach make this article? If Stuart Elliot, the author of the article, were looking for smaller a destination to get a better range, why not Gatlinburg or Destin or even Daytona?  Why Panama City Beach?

My only answer has to be exactly what Dan Rowe is talking about. Compared to many places around the world, Panama City Beach is one of very few who continues to do well despite the economy. It should also be considered that in the very near future, New York may well become one of Panama City Beach’s new feeder markets. I know for a fact that New York ranks in the top five on both PCBDaily as well as SeePCB for visitorship. This NYT article, in some ways, was an introduction to New York, a “Hey, look at us now, and envision 2010,” sort of thing. A city that is prosperous in hard times is a city that, when the times get good, should break new grounds. It’s too early to tell, but at least we know that the first impression on a potential game-changing relationship was one of which Panama City Beach business owners can be proud.

To read the complete NYT article click here.

TDC Meeting Agenda – Sea Oats and Visitor Surveys, No Bed Tax Talk

Tuesday’s TDC meeting will include discussion of a new plan to preserve Sea Oats plan Sand Fencing.  The Klages group will do a presentation on visitor survey’s, should be interesting, and they will discuss renewing the contract with the Klages report for this upcoming tourist season.

There will be no talk of the possible bed tax increase as earlier indicated.  They plan to call a special meeting for this, which we’ll be notified about very soon.

See ya Tuesday!

The agenda is below, or it can be downloaded here.

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AGENDA

COMBINED BOARD MEETING
Bay County Tourist Development Council
Panama City Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau, Inc.
Panama City Beach
Tuesday, December 9, 2008                1:00 p.m.        Council Room, PCB City Hall

I.    CALL MEETING TO ORDER

II.    ROLL CALL

A.    Invocation
B.    Pledge of Allegiance
C.    Approve Minutes From the October 15, 2008, and November 6, 2008 Meetings

III.    REQUESTS TO ADDRESS THE BOARD ON AGENDA ITEMS (3 Minutes)

IV.    UPDATE ON BED TAX COLLECTIONS, Ms. Charlene Honnen, Tourist Development Tax Specialist

V.    PRESENTATIONS

A.    Presentation on Preliminary Design for Panama City Beaches Sea Oat Planting and Sand Fencing Project, Mr. Quin Robertson, Coastal Planning & Engineering, and Mrs. Lisa Armbruster, Sustainable Beaches, LLC
B.    Report on Visitor Surveys, Dr. Walter Klages, The Klages Group

VI.    BOARD ACTION ITEMS

A.    Discuss and Consider for Approval Contract Agreement with The Klages Group, Mr. Dan Rowe, President
B.    Discuss and Consider for Approval Coastal Planning & Engineering Invoice #81120 and Invoice #81155, Mr. Dan Rowe, President
C.    Discuss and Consider for Approval Memorandum of Understanding with JB, Inc., Mr. Dan Rowe, President

VII.    BOARD DISCUSSION ITEMS

A.    Update on Revenue Enhancement Committee Meeting, Mr. Marty McDaniel, Chairman, Revenue Enhancement Committee
B.    Discussion of Annual Review Process for CVB President, Mr. Andy Phillips, Chairman

VIII.    PRESIDENT’S REPORT

IX.    AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION

X.    ADJOURNMENT

Jennifer Barbee Takes the Cake – New Panama City Beach Web Site

In addition to talking about MTVu, today’s TDC meeting included presentations from the board’s top 3 web development companies that submitted their RFQ’s to build the CVB’s new web site for Panama City Beach.

The three included Miles Media, Jennifer Barbee Inc., and Simple View, in order of presentation.

If you subscribe to our Twitter page, you may have seen some opinions as the presentations took place, if not, well, you missed out.

First, I’d like to say, working in the digital media/marketing world for the last 3 years, I’ve consistently noticed particular trends.  Most of the time, the guys that can create brilliant back-end cms systems with tons of “coded” features including data collection, reports, functionality, automated processes, etc. tend to really lack on the creative end.  Their pretty pictures may look pretty to them, but to everyone else, they are pretty plain and not very visually stimulating.  This is good for some, but not for all.

Next, the agencies that are great graphic artists, that create very visually stimulating graphics using trendy, relevant and current design elements tend to lack on the back end capabilities.  The sites look good, but don’t do much.

The trick is to find an agency that is good at both, not good, but great, actually.  The agencies that are great at both are few and far between.  This observation was consistent with the presentations today.

The first group to present, Miles Media came out guns blazin, suits ‘a wearin.  Ok, not really, but they were all wearing suits.  Their presentation began with intros by none other than Roger Miles, himself.  They rotated what looked like a practiced and choreographed routine, sharing presentation points with the entire team of 3, plus Roger.

They began with credibility statements, explaining that they had doubled their revenue and more than tripled their client base in the last 5 years. Currently they have over 180 clients and $35 million in annual revenue.

They operate one of the largest travel web sites in the country, visitflorida.com, which fights Vegas for number 1 with regards to most visited in the tourism/travel industry during the peak season, and falls to around number 5 during the shoulder seasons.  They’ve never spent any money on any SEM efforts and have always focused on SEO.  SEM = search engine marketing, or paid placement; SEO = search engine optimization, or optimizing the site so that search engines will pick it up on crawls.  “Competitors spend millions annually on SEM, we spend nothing,” Roger Miles said.

I took a bunch of notes, but I’ll cut right to the chase.  Their creative was weak, their ideas were OK, just OK, and nothing in their presentation poped.  I think I said in one of my twitter updates, they were good, but not WOW.

Roger, I know you read pcbdaily, no hard feelings.  You guys do great work, just not what PCB is looking for right now.

I’ll skip Jennifer Barbee real quick and go to Simple View.  At first, the board thought Simple View had the lead, and I agreed.  They seemed to have the experience we wanted, the client list to back it up, and the capability to fulfill our creative marketing desires.  I think they blew it with their presentation, which was very dry, boring, and displayed their complete lack of creative talent.  They started the whole thing out with a 5 minute video that looked dated, poorly put together, boring, and entirely too long.  At first, I was able to tolerate the vid, but after about 2 minutes of the same music, no narration, and screen-shots and words flashing across, they lost me.  They started reviving me when they showed some of their web work, which some was pretty good, but I started dozing off with the “tech-talk” on how the back end cms system works, etc.  Their entire presentation seemed to be working up to a system that the TDC could take and make changes themselves, with the ability to create pages, new navigation menus, or new web initiatives.  This seemed like good flexibility, but everything seemed geared towards, “ok, we’re done, here ya go,” and then the vendor disappears.

All in all, the board decided they were NOT what they were looking for as they worried Panama City Beach might get lost in the middle of all of Simple View’s ‘big’ clients.

Last, but not least, Jennifer Barbee Inc. Their presentation was second, and I knew right away, they would probably be the best.  First off, their presentation was very graphically oriented, very fun to look at.  That captured my attention, I was ready to see what they could do on the back end.  It was very apparent, very quickly, that they were great graphic artists and could make very visually stimulating creative.  And, the more Jennifer spoke, the more impressed I was.

Jennifer started out as a software developer, and over the years morphed into web development and marketing.  As of two years ago, she had worked her way up to be (I think) one of the Presidents of USDM, an interactive marketing company, regarded to be one of the best in the destination and tourism industry.  Her separation from them was because she wanted to get back into something that was smaller, or a boutique.  She wanted to get back that intimacy that came with having only a few select clients.  She isn’t the only one that I’ve know to do that over the last couple of years. Sometimes “corporate” just gets too corporate.

One of the big concerns in the RFQ review process with Jennifer was her company size and age.  The marketing committee was concerned that maybe she was inexperienced or that her company didn’t have the resources to handle an account like Panama City Beach.  Turns out, this is exactly what ended up giving her the greatest value. She conveyed the feeling that we would be special and given personal, individual treatment.  Something the TDC very much liked.

Jennifer clearly demonstrated her knowledge of all the latest trends in the social media side with innovative ways to implement marketing initiatives across the web, not just on the Panama City Beach web site.  She mentioned not only the importance of up-to-date, fresh content, but the importance of distributing that content across the web using social media, link exchanges, paid bloggers, videos and more.

Something else that was cool was their idea of customizing site content based on user submitted information.  She showed an example of a visitor coming to a site, a brief survey may come up, and based on the results, the visitor is taken to a page that is specific to what that visitor may be looking for, with interactive capabilities that are tailored to him or her.

Jennifer spoke into her agency’s capability to make marketing recommendations based on varying environmental changes, i.e. economic downturn, etc., tailoring initiatives to best leverage what people may be looking for during these times.

At the end of the presentations, it was clear that Jennifer Barbee Inc. had the graphical talent to stay on top with the look and feel of the new site, and a strong back end knowledge to create a site that has tons of interactive capabilities.

The board was all in agreement, with the exception of Mr. Walsingham, that JBinc. was the right choice.

Even PanamaCityBeach.com’s Charles Mason commented at the end his agreement with the board – there’s your published confirmation Marty!

I was convinced that JBinc. was not just the best of the three, but the best for the job.  Congrats Jennifer!