Branding the Delta -- with $300,000 of your money
by Gene Beley, CVBT Delta Correspondent
March 8, 2015
• First ad agency is out, now a San Francisco agency is hired
• “Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.”
• WITH VIDEO
When you try to get anything done in the California Delta, it can be a real jungle. Maybe that’s why the Delta Conservancy and the Delta Protection Commission have picked Jungle Communications of San Francisco to “brand” the Delta.
Watch carefully: This is a tale of your tax money at work -- if you can see it. The information became known to the public at a meeting in Walnut Grove dealing with how to market the California Delta.
Watch a 14 minute clip of the meeting here and the entire 1 hour, 20 minute PowerPoint presentation video at the end. Our story continues below this video window.
Jungle Communications, S.F., hired to do Delta marketing with $197,000 Federal Economic Development Admininstration grant from Gene Beley on Vimeo.
After picking AugstineIdeas of Roseville last year to come up with ways to market the largest estuary on the west coast of the Western Hemisphere, and its tussle over just what the call that region of 1,000 miles of rivers and sloughs in the heart of California, two state agencies have now switched to an ad agency in San Francisco.
Apparently nobody got fired. But a logo was produced that changed the name of the California Delta to “Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The river of money continues after the first $95,000 to the Roseville AugstineIdeas advertising agency with $197,500 federal grant being used by the new agency, Jungle Communications. But the breakdown of that money apparently is $210,000 because that federal EDA grant includes $12,500 for travel, equipment, and supplies.
"We continue to work with the State Lands Commission and Conservancy on the Delta branding contract,” says Debbie Augustine, owner of the Roseville firm that no longer has the contract with Delta Conservancy and the Delta Protection Commission.
“However, post the original bid AugustineIdeas submitted, the agency landed several large contracts. Because of that we opted not to register with CMAS or pursue the Marketing RFP. We wish the Commission and the Conservancy much success going forward,” she says.
Now, here’s the drilldown about where and how your taxes and fees are being spent.
Nicole Darracq Bert, a public relations person who works for the Delta Protection Commission, says the marketing contracts were advertised for bidding.
It apparently depended on if you knew where to look.
Bill Wells, director of the Delta Chambers & Visitors Bureau, says he doesn’t recall seeing any such advertisements, despite the fact Ms. Bert claims she sent him notices after he requested them. Several others at a recent meeting said they also never saw any advertising for a new ad agency to replace a Roseville company.
“The process is as follows,” says Ms. Bert in an email to CVBT. “The contracting agency writes up the scope of work. Since the Commission is a small agency, we then send it over to contract specialists at State Lands Commission, who handle our contracting for us. They prepare a final RFP (Request for Proposal), which is posted on the Department of General Services website. (Public Works contracts must be published in local papers.) Companies looking for that sort of work check that website constantly and respond from there.”
Barbara Daly of Clarksburg said at the Walnut Grove marketing meeting that she thought it would be helpful to hire some subcontractors who actually live in the Delta. “If you have that kind of money I think the marketing plan should be more structured through people who know this area.”
Mr. Wells told Central Valley Business Times before the Walnut Grove meeting that he was not going to attend because he is totally frustrated at how the money had been spent thus far.
The Roseville advertising agency burned through $95,000 for a new logo and research that called for changing the name of the California Delta to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Delta residents and business owners have told CVBT that they cannot comprehend why anyone would want to replace the logo of the late world famous Delta artist Marty Stanley, who died in September 2006.
His logo greets people on the Welcome to the Delta signs that motorists see when they travel Delta roads. Area residents still think of him as “Mr. Delta Sunset” for his Delta sunset paintings that hang in places like the Moore’s Riverboat Restaurant on the Delta Loop and have people admiring his mural on the old Boon Box Botel next to Mel’s Mocha & Ice Cream in Walnut Grove.
The Delta Chambers & Visitor’s Bureau website and all of their printed advertising is not inclined to change the California Delta name so this sets up an automatic conflict to confuse the world.
Ms. Bert said no state general funds went into the first $95,000 that came from the Delta Protection Commission’s budget. She said that money came from two sources: the Harbors and Watercraft Revolving Fund and the Environmental License Plate Fund. The funds for the AugustineIdeas contract came solely from the Environmental License Plate Fund, she said.
The major revenue sources for the Harbors and Watercraft Fund come from “taxes imposed on distribution of fuel to propel vessels; a portion of vessel registration fees; fees received from the licensing of yacht and ship brokers and salesmen, and interest and repayment of loans by local governments,” the state Department of Finance says.
The Environmental License Plate Fund gets its money from sales of vanity license plates that carry a surcharge.
Wading into the Jungle
At the Walnut Grove marketing meeting, Ms. Bert said Jungle Communications, a San Francisco company that says it sells “creative solutions and language services to diverse clients and audiences,” has come up with three potential ideas to bring more people into the Delta: social media, traditional media and special event participation while creating partnerships with businesses and the community to ensure increased sustainable tourism and revenue from worldwide sources.
Then the seemingly highlight of the evening’s presentation was Ms. Bert proudly announcing that they have already partnered with VisitCalifornia.com
Ms. Bert said when the idea of a website came up, at first she asked, “Who the hell is going to find it?” Then she told how the Delta Protection Commission and Delta Conservancy have partnered with visitCalifornia.com -- a state agency with a $100 million budget funded by the tourism industry -- “not with your local tax dollars.”
“The way it works now is through county convention and visitors bureaus, which is why the Delta always gets ignored, because we’re part of five different counties,” she said. “If I’m the Contra Costa County Visitors Bureau, I’m filling all those hotel rooms in Concord. That’s what I have to do. If I’m the Sacramento region’s visitors bureau, I’m getting people into the theaters, hotels up in the Gold Country and I’m not thinking about the Delta. So we met with the marketing director of visitCalifornia.com and we asked, ‘Can the Delta be its own region?’”
“No,” said Ms. Bert answering her own question. “However, they said our website could be part of their platform. When people go to visitCalifornia.com and type in the right key words, they will go to the Delta website and be directed to restaurants, museums and other businesses. Anyone who wants to promote his or her business can be linked to it. That $100 million of search engine optimization will be working for us as opposed to building a website and not having the money to keep it up. We are also going to be able to do media buys with them to make our money go farther.
“We only have just so much money. It sounds like a lot of money but it takes a tremendous amount of cash to get advertising. Rather than say we will buy seven ads and place them in Citrus Heights (a Sacramento suburb), we are going to have a promotion — just one big promotion to target bringing people into the Delta,” she enthused.
“Jungle Communications that is building our website has come up with three ideas for this promotion. We want you to tell us which one appeals to you the most and which ones you see businesses getting behind and think will work to raise awareness and bring people into the Delta,” Ms. Bert continued. “You’re the ones on the ground seeing these people as they arrive. If you don’t get behind us, it’s not going to work. There’s really no point in spending this money if it isn’t going to work.”
The day after the Walnut Grove marketing meeting and ideas were presented, Mr. Wells was asked why the Chamber and Visitors Bureau didn’t link up with visitCalifornia.com. He said they have been linked to it for eight years and wondered if Ms. Bert is unaware that is the case.
When Mr. Wells was told that Ms. Bert claimed she sent him a notification of the bidding opportunities for Delta businesses, here is his email reply:
“Does she know the date she sent it to me or have a copy of the email? I sure can't find it in my archives. If I had seen something like that I would have responded. I have 30 or 40 years experience responding to RFPs and RFQs (Request for Quotation) from the state government of California. It is generally done on a formal basis by contacting potential bidders directly and advertising in publications. If you don't respond they usually contact you to make sure you received it. Most state agencies bend over backwards to make sure there is no appearance of wrongdoing.”
Ms. Bert promptly replied, “I sent nothing from myself, as I was not employed by the Delta Protection Commission at that time. Alex Westhoff, the individual who was managing the project at the time, is no longer with the Delta Protection Commission and his email account has been wiped. However, both Alex and Amanda (Bohl) remember being asked by Mr. Wells to send the RFP to a company called Blue Splash, and that that request was honored. We have no record of a response from Blue Splash.”
Mr. Wells replies, “I worked closely with Alex Westhoff for the years he was at the DPC and he came to at least a few of our chamber Board of Director meetings to present. We worked on the NHA, the Delta trail, and the Conservancy. I think we did talk about the ‘branding/marketing’ campaign before he left. We also worked together for the DPC to help support them. I have no recollection of discussing Blue Splash with him, Amanda or anyone else. I think the first time I ever heard of Blue Splash was the other day. I do keep most of my emails and can’t find any reference to it in any of my communications with Amanda or Alex.”
Mr. Wells says that when he was first informed of the marketing effort he was very optimistic and thought it would be great.
“I thought it would bring some benefit and relief to regional businesses. Instead it devolved into the infamous logo and renaming of the California Delta to ‘Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta’ — the same name John Laird and Westlands Water District call it,” Mr. Wells says. “The Delta has been called the California Delta since the late 1800s. We market it world wide as the California Delta. If you are in London or New York everyone has heard of California and no one has heard of Sacramento-San Joaquin.”
Mr. Wells lists some of the Delta Chambers’ accomplishments that have taken place without the need for a new state marketing campaign:
• A website that gets 400,000 visitors per year with a cost to taxpayers of exactly zero.
• A travel guide with 40,000 copies distributed worldwide. He said the cost to taxpayers was $5,000 from the DPC with the other $35,000 paid by area businesses.
• Delta Scuttlebutt e-newsletter that goes to over 7,000 people each month costing taxpayers nothing.
• A seven-days-per-week phone hotline, seven-day-a-week email service, participates in many area events and helps publicize them. It has gotten great press from radio, TV, and print media all over California and the United States at a zero cost to taxpayers.
Amanda Bohl, Delta Conservancy’s economic development lead, adds, “The Conservancy — as the Commission did when it solicited bids for the branding component — released a request for proposals (RFP) using the state’s procurement system. The state has a few different methods for soliciting bids. The Conservancy issued the RFP three times. The first two times, the state’s standard bidding process was used and the Conservancy sent the RFP to a couple of Delta-based firms as well as Augustine. None of the Delta-based firms bid during the first two attempts.
“For the third release of the RFP, the Conservancy used the CMAS [California Multiple Award Schedules] system for this process. In order to bid on a CMAS contract, a firm must be on the CMAS list. Augustine was not on the CMAS list and therefore did not bid on the contract.”
The referenced website states: “Suppliers may apply for a CMAS contract at any time. No bids are required. The use of these contracts is optional and is available to state and local government agencies.”
Central Valley Business Times has not received any confirmation that any ads were placed in prominent Delta media outlets like the Rio Vista River News & Isleton Journal, Stockton Record, Discovery Bay newspapers, the free Delta Scuttlebutt, or the Sacramento Bee, several of which are “newspapers of record,” a requirement for legal notices.
One of the other big ideas presented at the Walnut Grove Delta marketing meeting was called “The Golden Sturgeon. Solve the riddle, find the sturgeon, keep the gold.” This proposal would use the symbol of a “golden” sturgeon as the focal point of a large-scale treasure hunt that encourages the public to meet a series of challenges with the end goal of finding the prize of a golden sturgeon. Clues would be available at places like local marinas, restaurants and businesses. There would be a school competition within surrounding areas of the Delta to engage youth and families and offering awards for the “best team.”
Gene, this is the name and company conflict I mentioned:
The presenter, Barbara Wichmann, CEO of the San Francisco ad agency ARTÉMIA.
The presenter, Barbara Wichmman from Jungle Communications, said this would produce content for social media and drive visits to the region and strengthen partnerships with Delta merchants, farmers and residents. Participants would have to register on a designated website and fill out information that would include their email and do a mini-survey to get a mass email via Twitter #hashtag for clues. Advertising would start in Bay Area parenting magazines, Ms. Wichmman added.
The day after the meeting, when Chuck Hasz from the Isleton Merchants Association was asked his opinion of the marketing meeting, he said he and others who went with him to the Walnut Grove confab already conducted their own meeting. He said they slant towards going their own way to produce a video with a Delta lifestyle theme done by Delta indigenous residents. The Golden Sturgeon and related t-shirt artwork did not connect with them, emphasized Mr. Hasz.
When Ms. Bert was asked by this reporter if the VisitCalifornia’s.com partnership wasn’t just duplicating efforts of the Delta Chamber of Commerce, her reply was, “Is there such a thing as too much publicity? We are not duplicating the Chamber's efforts, but plan to enhance present information and increase coverage. We will be delivering content upward to enhance VisitCalifornia's Delta site information, develop additional content for a range of interests and provide an additional platform from which to find Delta businesses.”
By 8 p.m. Jungle CEO Juan Santana said he was getting nervous about driving back to San Francisco that night but was anxious to meet more Delta people.
Delta Protection Commissioner Erik Vink, who was not at the meeting, tells CVBTin an email that, “We’ll continue our work with Delta interests on the marketing campaign, and I believe that the results will prove the value of these efforts.”
“I think we should give these folks the benefit of the doubt,” adds Jeff Hart, owner of Delta Eco-Farms and former commissioner on the Delta Protection Commission.
Jungle Communications powerpoint presentation of California Delta marketing ideas to Walnut Grove audience March 2, 2015 from Gene Beley on Vimeo.