Osage County commissioners voted 3-0 Monday to approve Tourism Director Kelly Bland’s plan to spend $45,000 in fiscal year 20-21 on an advertising bulk buy, but only after an extended discussion in which District 1 Commissioner Randall Jones voiced his concern about maintaining some form of awareness or oversight regarding tourism advertising.
The $45,000 bulk buy, through a promotion firm called Slick Engine, is anticipated to help Osage County obtain more for its tourism advertising dollars than it might otherwise receive, according to Bland. The bulk buy will also have the effect, however, of discontinuing the previous administrative approval process for the distribution of tourism advertising dollars to local groups and events.
Until now, the county’s tourism oversight committee would approve a request for advertising dollars from an event, and then the county commissioners would review the tourism committee’s decision and vote to approve or not approve the expense. Jones said more than once that he favored the use of an advertising bulk buy to attempt to get more for the county’s money, but he also expressed anxiety about giving up direct oversight of decisions about how much money to spend on each local group and event that desires support.
Jones explained that the public is attentive to issues like the allocation of advertising funds to local events, and he said that he gets phone calls from Osage County citizens.
Bland said that she wants to maintain good relationships with local groups and events, and she added that she views her decision to move in the direction of more control over the allocation of tourism advertising dollars as putting her own neck “on the chopping block” if the return on investment is not good.
“We just want a process where we’re not finding out after the fact,” about how tourism advertising dollars are being spent, Jones said.
District 3 Commissioner Darren McKinney voiced a similar concern, but also cautioned against any action that might slow down the growth of tourism-related visits to Osage County.
“We don’t want to stop it,” McKinney said.
The commissioners and Bland didn’t settle Monday on any clear-cut arrangement about communication regarding tourism advertising expenditures, but the commissioners did vote unanimously to allow her to proceed.
Jeff Bute, chairman of Cavalcade Rodeo, who was present for the Monday meeting, commented that working with Slick Engine allows organizations like Cavalcade to have access to a full-service promotion firm — something that had previously not been available.