Ocean City Today

MGH deal extended, but with questions asked

By Katie Tabeling | Jul 06, 2017

(July 7, 2017) Ocean City government has renewed a three-year contract with its advertising agency, MGH of Owings Mills, even as some council members asked whether the marketing techniques the agency has been using were reaching the desired audience.

During Monday’s session, the City Council unanimously voted to renew the 36-month contract with MGH at $23,000 per month. The advertising firm is one of several line-items that is paid through the 2.5 percent of room tax allocated for marketing the resort, or $6.14 million in fiscal year 2018.

Before the vote was taken, Councilman Wayne Hartman asked if MGH had recently looked into how effective their ads were in drawing visitors.

“There’s been conversations about making sure we’re reaching our target audience. When was the last time we did any market research to see what families are looking for when they pick a place?” he said. “We have a lot of new amenities in town and we have a lot of new hotels that could help us attract a different audience. What makes people choose Ocean City or not choose Ocean City? Is it too much alcohol or not enough of something else? You hear we’re losing families, but when was the last time we did any market research?”

Tourism Director Donna Abbott said Ocean City completed an advertising effectiveness study six years ago, but the Tourism Department conducts annual surveys of visitors. This questionnaire asks visitors their home zip codes, how often they come to Ocean City, how long they stay, and median household income.

“An advertising effectiveness study is not something you’d do every year. We can certainly find some money in the budget to do an advertising assessment if that’s what the council desires,” Abbott said.

Hartman said that it was clear that Ocean City was still a popular spot, but wondered if advertisements could be recalibrated to different types of clientele.

“There is no doubt we’re getting people, but are we getting the right people?” he asked. “What direction should we give our advertising agency? It might be time for a reality check.”

Abbott said MGH does focus on median household income to seek out that desired target visitor.

“At one time, the median household income for our target audience was lowered to $50,000 by the then-council. That’s pretty low,” she said. “As the economy has improved, we’ve raised the median household income target to $100,000-plus.”

Key markets for Ocean City are East Coastal metropolitan areas such as Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia. Other cities are in central Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The census data compiled in 2016 shows the median household income in Maryland is $74,551, New Jersey is $72,093, Pennsylvania is $53,599 and D.C. is $70,848.

“That’s a good start,” Hartman said. “Maybe we can have smaller billboards in smaller communities where the desired demographics exist.”

Council Secretary Mary Knight said she would put the matter before the Tourism Commission, which she chairs.

Abbott added that each year, surveys are sent out to gather information on where their visitors are coming from, but to little success.

“It’s really amazing to see the hesitancy from people who don’t want to share information about their household income,” she said.

Discussion on MGH’s marketing campaign is tentatively scheduled for the August Tourism Commission meeting.


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