Does Richmond's hiring a Denver ad agency really "stink"?

After competitive bidding, the City of Richmond’s economic development office hired Atlas Advertising of Denver, CO, as its advertising agency. This decision went relatively unremarked, except by one of the losers, who went whining to theRichmond Times Dispatch:

“As a small-business owner who pays taxes in the city, this stinks,” said David Saunders, president of Madison+Main and a finalist for the contract. “That the organization in charge of promoting a city that has some of the best agencies in the country goes 2,000 miles away is just wrong.”…He said he believes the work should have stayed in the Richmond community, which has gained international recognition in the advertising field with one of the top advertising agencies in the country, The Martin Agency…

But is it wrong? An objective look suggests that Saunders’s reasoning may be as faulty as his grammar (dangling clause).

Was The Martin Agency somehow slighted?

One implication in Saunders’s statement is that The Martin Agency, which is indeed “one of the top advertising agencies in the country,” somehow got the short end of the stick. Nothing could be further from the truth. The total budget for the Richmond economic development contract is $100,000. Martin is deservedly a very big agency, with a big overhead to match. They don’t handle $100,000 accounts because there’s no way they could break even on them, much less make a profit.

Creativity by association?

Another Saunders implication is that, creatively speaking, his agency is somehow in a class with The Martin Agency. Without either making value judgments or citing numbers of awards, let us suggest you visit both agencies’ websites (links in preceding sentence) so you can decide for yourself what, if anything, the two advertising agencies have in common besides both being located in downtown Richmond and both beginning with “M.”

Should tax dollars pay for learning curves and reinventing wheels?

According to the Times Dispatch

Saunders said his firm has worked for Richmond’s Department of Economic and Community Development in the past and also helped develop a branding campaign for Chesterfield County. And before launching Madison + Main, Saunders worked on a campaign to rebrand several localities in California’s Los Angeles County.

That’s nice, but there’s still learning curve and development time involved and, as the cliche goes, time is money.

A visit to the Atlas Advertising website shows that they specialize in economic development and have worked for “90+ communities in six countries and 35+ states.” What’s more, they say they’ve developed off-the-shelf software that not only rebrands communities, but also seeks out sources of new business, hooks them up with local businesses, is customizable for each community’s brand identity and can go live within 60 days.

So if you were on the selection panel, you saw that, you were aware how pitifully little advertising $100,000 buys you, and felt a sense of responsibility to make the most of the taxpayers’ limited dollars, what choice would you make?

Forgetting the special pleading and geography (which today’s technology makes meaningless), the decision to hire Atlas, out of Denver, doesn’t “stink.” In fact, on the face of it, it’s quite justifiable. But is it a good decision? Only time, and results, will tell.