R.I. Commerce board OKs $3.4M for tourism push

Updated at 5:37 p.m.

R.I. COMMERCE CORP.'S BOARD OF DIRECTORS is voting on Friday, March 4, 2021, on whether to authorize its staff to enter into one-year contracts worth a total of $3.44 million for marketing services and tourism advertising from the Tallahassee-based Zimmerman Agency Inc. and the Providence-based RDW Group Inc. / COURTESY R.I. COMMERCE CORP.
R.I. COMMERCE CORP.'S BOARD OF DIRECTORS on Friday approved spending up to $3.44 million for marketing services and tourism advertising from the Florida-based Zimmerman Agency Inc. and the Providence-based RDW Group Inc. Pictured above are board members and Gov. Daniel J. McKee, rear, center. / COURTESY R.I. COMMERCE CORP.

PROVIDENCE – R.I. Commerce Corp.’s board of directors approved spending up to $3.44 million between two vendors for tourism advertising, including media buying and public relations.

The board voted unanimously 7-0 during its meeting on Friday afternoon to authorize the Commerce Corp.’s senior management team, its chairperson or vice chairperson to negotiate and execute contracts with The Zimmerman Agency Inc. and Providence-based The RDW Group Inc.

The maximum expenditure that would be allowed for a one-year contract with The Zimmerman Agency, based in Florida, would be $1.19 million, according to public documents describing the plans. The RDW Group would be eligible for a one-year contract of up to $2.25 million, according to the documents.

The Commerce Corp. board, which is chaired by Gov. Daniel J. McKee, received a presentation from the agency’s chief marketing officer, Anika Kimble-Huntley, and recommendation from staff for the selection of The Zimmerman Agency and The RDW Group as vendors for tourism advertising. Kimble-Huntley said the two companies were selected after a request for proposals posted by Commerce Corp. in November last year.

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Advertising campaigns executed by the companies will follow-up on efforts last year to market Rhode Island as a destination not just for the fly and drive market, but for the “drive market” with day trips and overnight trips, as part of a “Take To The Open Road” initiative, Kimble-Huntley said.

Kimble-Huntley said Commerce Corp. has used RDW Group successfully as a vendor in the past, and The Zimmerman Agency was bought on board for reasons including its access to Facebook advertising resources at “deeply discounted rates.” Kimble-Huntley said that discounted rate is a result of The Zimmerman Agency being a member of the Omnicom Collective, which recently did a $450 million upfront buy with Facebook.

The Zimmerman Agency is led by co-founder/CEO Carrie Zimmerman. It calls itself a “hyper-integrated” marketing firm that has served clients including the Belize Tourism Board, Visit Tallahassee and Domino Sugar.

Kimble-Huntley said The RDW Group will be collecting an 8% commission from its expected $1.19 million contract. She was not able to immediately provide board members with a commission percentage for The Zimmerman Agency, stating that the company would be on a monthly retainer with preset social media advertising goals that will be set for the company.

McKee said, in terms of destination marketing, he has an announcement coming soon related to Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport, because of the state’s battle with COVID-19 moving from a pandemic phase to an endemic stage.

“We fully expect that plane travel into the state will be a piece of this destination marketing,” McKee said. “We’ll be coming back to give you some sort of overview.”

During the public meeting, the board also voted unanimously to authorized Commerce Corp. staff to enter into contracts with vendors to help with the McKee administration’s RI Rebounds Initiative, which is the governor’s plan to invest $119 million in American Rescue Plan State Fiscal Recovery Funds into programs meant to assist small businesses, provide services for children, support families and promote affordable housing.

The vendors will assist the state with the ongoing Take It Outside program, which helps restaurants and retail businesses use sidewalks and other outdoor areas to conduct sales and serve food, said Daniela Fairchild, who serves as the director of operations and special projects for the R.I. Commerce Corp. Vendors selected by Commerce Corp. staff as a result of Friday’s vote will also help with the Placemaking Program that assisted industries impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Fairchild said. The agency is in the midst of conducting a request for proposals for vendors to assist with these efforts, she said.

About $7.5 million is being devoted to public health upgrades and outdoor programming as part of the Take It Outside Program. And $3 million is dedicated to the Placemaking Program for outdoor and public space capital improvements and event programming.

“We did do a survey of businesses last June and did find a continued desire and need for this type of work,” Fairchild said. “The RFP is live presently. … We’ve gotten a number of responses thus far.”

At a previous meeting held in January, as part of RI Rebounds, the board approved a small-business grant program providing applicants with $2,500 to $5,000 in direct relief funding. As of Feb. 8, a week before the deadline for applicants, the program received more than 2,000 applications.

A financial breakdown of RI Rebounds initiates provided by R.I. Commerce ahead of the January meeting stated that $12.5 million will be distributed through the RI Rebounds Small Business Grant Program, another $8 million will be distributed through the RI Rebounds Impacted Industries Grant Program, $1.5 million is for technical assistance for long-term business-capacity building, $3 million is dedicated to the Placemaking Program for outdoor and public space capital improvements and event programming, and $7.5 million is being devoted to public health upgrades and outdoor programming as part of the Take It Outside Program.

(UPDATED throughout with vote, comment from hearing.)

Marc Larocque is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Larocque@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter @LaRockPBN.

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