Two branches of Flagler County government–its economic development arm and its tourism bureau–have teamed up to produce an electronic billboard ad that began showing in Midtown Manhattan on Oct. 1. It is one of the city’s–and the world’s–busiest business and tourism locations.
Contrary to a county news release, however, the billboard is not “in heart of New York City’s Times Square,” but, rather, four blocks south of the square itself (which is at 46th Street where Broadway and 7th Avenue meet), and one block west, near the corner with 8th Avenue, a less trafficked area than the square’s zone, which draws some 40 million people a year. The billboard is located above 253 West 42nd Street. County Administrator Craig Coffey at the County Commission meeting on Oct. 7 repeated the inaccuracy when he told commissioners that “we are advertising in Times Square.”
The 10-second spot will run once an hour, 18 times a day, through Jan. 2. The cost: $15,000. Half is paid from the Tourist Development Council’s revenue from the county’s 4 percent bed tax. The other half is paid through the county’s general fund, which finances the economic development department’s roughly half-million dollar budget.
Helga van Eckert, the county’s economic development director, unveiled the ad (see below) at the economic development council’s monthly meeting Wednesday–and specified its location between 7th and 8th Avenues, near the high-trafficked Port Authority bus terminal.
“We’ve been putting a lot of focus on getting the Flagler County word out there,” van Eckert said, whether through an ad in the annual Florida Business Magazine used by the governor and Enterprise Florida to promote the state when they go on out-of-state tours, or through exposure in the Jacksonville Business Journal. One of the billboard leasing companies happened by the Business Journal item through a web crawl and pitched the 10-second ad sale to Flagler at a discount, because of another advertiser’s cancellation.
“We managed to do it at a really great rate,” van Eckert told the council Wednesday, though the $15,000 figure was never mentioned.
“It will be running for the full three months, during the parade, Christmas, the ball drop, everything,” van Eckert said, referring to the celebrated–and immensely viewed–New Year’s ball drop in Times Square. (The ball drop is watched on television by more than 25 million people, but that’s at One Times Square, where billboard costs are prohibitive: Dunkin Donuts pays $3.6 million a year for its spot there.)
“So here’s the challenge to everyone,” Brabara Revels, the county commissioner who chairs the economic development council, said. “We want to see how many of our members or members of the public can get to New York, get in front of the billboard, wait for our ad to come up and get your picture taken there.”
The ad shows a man in a business suit and shades walking on a beach–the beach: you can glimpse the pylons of the pier in the background–with a surf board under his arm. Cut to the doffed business suit being draped on a green green chair with a laptop on an armrest. The man briefly appears from the waist down in bright orange swimming trunks as he grabs the surfboard again. His full silhouette is then fully visible as he heads for the surf, with a white-lettered message appearing: “Your Business Forecast in Florida is SUNNY.” The county’s economic development website’s url appears below that. It’s a cleverly told and enticing story that should have much appeal as the weather cools and turns to rain, sleet and snow in New York.
But missing from the picture, at least in sharp enough letters, is Flagler’s branding. A small logo with the word “Flagler County Florida” adjacent to a small green map of Florida, appears in the small laptop’s computer screen. The five-second branding may be too brief and small to give Flagler as much of a bang as the more general seduction of heading to the beaches, though the fact that the billboard is nearer street level will help. Throughout the ad, the website address of the county’s economic development office appears in sharp orange and blue letters, lining the bottom of the screen (www.FlaglerCountyEDC.com), which helps give Flagler some presence. The county had very little time to produce the ad.
Flagler County staffers Videographer Craig Hockinson joined the effort to produce the ad with assistance from Katrina Austin, a county news release notes, with props from Z Wave Surf Shop and Sully’s Surf Shop in Flagler Beach. The chair was from Revels’s own porch. (The news release also neglected to note the cost of the ad, though that cost was readily provided by a county spokesman and van Eckert when requested.)
Later in the meeting, one of the council members was curious about the possibility of teaming up with local businesses and have them help carry the cost of ads or marketing.
“I don’t think we can do that with the way that our model is, as far as a business giving $10,000 and saying, OK, it’s to use for marketing,” Revels said. “I think we’d have to do it through a vehicle, whether it was an arm of the chamber that set that, but the county—I’m speaking of the county now, as far as the government—has difficulties in receiving donated funds because it’s not one of our ‘funds.’ It’s just kind of not done. When we’ve had that happen, we had Feed Flagler, we had the Carver Center, a number of things throughout the county where people have wanted to give money, they’ve made it happen, but it’s not typical. So we’d have to set up some other way of doing that.”