By Alison Lowe
Nassau Guardian Business Editor
NASSAU, Bahamas -- In a move which has surprised some in the industry, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism has set out to terminate all of its international public relations and advertising agencies, ahead of what it says is a plan to move all such promotional work within the ministry itself.
Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe said the “review” has occurred in light of what the ministry saw as a multitude of “similar” contracts which saw the government paying large sums to international companies in the form of retainers for work which was not always “received or required”.
Going forward, Wilchcombe suggested that PR and advertising companies will be contracted on a “project-driven basis” as needed.
While he did not confirm that the termination of contracts had already occurred, Guardian Business understands that the termination of the contracts took place this week.
The move ends partnerships the ministry in some cases had for as long as two decades in countries including the US, Canada, Germany, France and the UK. In each of these countries, the ministry had anywhere between one to three agencies working on its behalf to promote The Bahamas.
Wilchcombe suggested the termination of the contracts is part of a wider re-assessment of all of the ministry’s international business partnerships. He expressed confidence that Bahamians are capable of doing the work of promoting The Bahamas themselves.
“We are reviewing all contracts with international agencies. We have had similar contracts for PR, advertising and digital, and found ourselves paying retainers in the hundreds of thousands of dollars while not receiving or requiring services. [This] amounts to wasting funds.
“We will bring all agencies under a single umbrella in-house led by Geneva Cooper (senior director of global communication at the Ministry of Tourism).”
Wilchcombe suggested that any future contracts with international PR and advertising agencies will be undertaken on a “pay per product” basis, most likely for services like advert creation.
“Bahamians have made tremendous progress in digital – equal to and superior in many instances (to international providers). We will have a social network that is second to none! We will cause for effective research to know what and how to reach consumers in the markets we must, such as US, Latin America, Europe and Asia. We have started that work.
“We have not used radio for many years! Radio is now at play. More exposure, less money. We are aiming to reduce costs... significantly. And [to] continue the savings as we perfect our team and approaches.”
“What we could not do ten years ago, we can do now. Digital is an invaluable tool that gives us reach that TV ads don’t.
“Additionally, we want to introduce a 24-hour online TV channel. Radio and digital shows, followed by TV and print, will keep us in the face of consumers globally.”
On Thursday, several tourism stakeholders who spoke with Guardian Business on condition of anonymity expressed surprise upon hearing of this development, of which they were not aware prior to being apprised by this newspaper.
One noted that while it is not unwise to review contracts with a view to ensuring that value for money is being obtained, the termination of all contracts at one time without prior announcement of new plans to promote The Bahamas is unexpected.
The source suggested that an abrupt ending of these contracts could send a signal that The Bahamas is not a reliable business partner, or may be experiencing particularly acute financial problems.
Another tourism stakeholder added that while the Ministry of Tourism has the capacity to engage in some public relations and advertising activities on its own behalf, the possibility that it could achieve the same level of exposure internationally as it has to date without “international help” is “very hard to believe”.
“I don’t see how that would work. They could do some of it in-house, but not all of it,” said the stakeholder.
A third observer suggested that the contracting of public relations agencies internationally is generally a “critical” and “cost effective” means of ensuring exposure in global target markets.
PR agencies are typically responsible for activities such as lobbying for The Bahamas to be included in publications, organizing press trips, pitching stories about The Bahamas to journalists, and communicating with the media on the subject of The Bahamas in general, all in an effort to raise the country’s international profile among potential visitors.
Advertising agencies would be involved with the design and execution of advertising strategies on The Bahamas’ behalf.
Republished with permission of the Nassau Guardian