Downtown executives debate advertising strategy | sarasota

As a downtown shopkeeper and landlord, Eileen Hampshire is a firm believer in the power of advertising.

That’s why, as a board member of the Downtown Improvement District, Hampshire asked the group to consider developing a comprehensive strategy to promote businesses in the heart of the city. His proposal was motivated not only by a desire to bring people downtown, but also by his concerns that the DID had historically spent too much money on advertising.

After its formation in 2008, Hampshire said DID invested its advertising dollars piecemeal. She hoped the board could find a more cohesive approach that would result in more efficient spending.

“What usually happened was someone who knew about the chair came up with XYZ magazine, and we gave them $70,000,” Hampshire said. “Then someone else came with another magazine, because they heard there was gold in those hills.”

DID’s approach to advertising was the subject of a meeting on Tuesday, where the Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association requested a $40,000 investment in a year-long television ad campaign.

Ron Soto, who is president of DID and chairman of the merchants’ group, called the TV ads an essential part of a strategy to stand out from neighboring shopping districts.

The merchants association also plans to spend $40,000 of its own money on the campaign, Soto said. Bill Kinney, director of the Paragon Fine Art Festivals and frequent dealer association partner, appeared at Tuesday’s meeting to speak about the effectiveness of television advertising and the urgency of the cause.

“It’s imperative that we compete with Lakewood Ranch, (University Town Center), Englewood and Venice,” Kinney said. “There aren’t many dollars, especially in season.”

Outside of Soto, however, the DID board was hesitant to fully commit to the campaign. Hampshire continued to advocate for a more comprehensive strategy, developed in conjunction with other inner city stakeholders. Board member Ernie Ritz feared Soto had a conflict of interest representing the two groups, although DID operations director John Moran said Soto was not breaking any regulations by leading the discussion.

Mark Kauffman was the most skeptical of DID’s board of directors regarding the importance of advertising expenditure. He said he was willing to commit $10,000 to the TV campaign, but he believed the DID money would be better spent on infrastructure projects, which no individual company could do on its own.

“I don’t want this DID board to turn into a billboard, which it was when I first joined,” Kauffman said.

Soto presented the television campaign as an opportunity to act quickly to promote the city center, hoping to start as soon as next month. He said there were difficulties coordinating with groups such as the Downtown Sarasota Association, which represents a larger segment of downtown than DID.

DID spent more than a year and about $15,000 developing a unified brand for downtown — an effort that produced no actual marketing materials promoting businesses in the neighborhood, Soto said.

Moran said that when the DID formed in 2008, landowners contributing to the tax district ranked promotion among the top three priorities. The council agreed to return to the subject at next month’s meeting, asking the merchants association to provide more detailed information on the advertising strategy.

Despite concerns from the rest of the board, Soto said more publicity could be a boon for downtown businesses, especially off-season.

“You see a lot less Ohio beacons; you see a lot less Michigan tags,” Soto said. “It’s lean times.”

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