Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau director defends using Indianapolis ad firm

The Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau hired an Indianapolis firm for a marketing campaign for downtown Elkhart. Some local agencies were upset, but officials have defended their actions.

Posted on May 31, 2014 at 8:05 a.m.

ELKHART — The executive director of Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau defended the agency’s choice of an out-of-town advertising company for a marketing campaign for downtown Elkhart.

City officials unveiled a marketing campaign this week that includes a new slogan and brands the immediate downtown as “The Gateway Mile.”

Representatives of SoMa, the city’s downtown revitalization group, sought and received $250,000 to conduct a large-scale marketing campaign for 2014, but only a small portion of that – less than $50,000 – was spent on a creative advertising project by Axiomport, of Indianapolis, said Diana Lawson, director of the CVB.

The CVB turned to Axiomport in part because the company specializes in “community development” marketing, Lawson said.

The move upset two advertising companies that are located in downtown Elkhart.

“It doesn’t mean that any of the agencies … in our region might not be able to do something,” Lawson said Friday, May 30.

“We didn’t hear from any agencies, and we don’t have any relationships with the agencies here because we’re an in-house agency. We pretty much do our own.”

Lawson was asked about the concern during a news conference Friday at Lerner Theatre.

“We are certainly open, as I said, to working with local businesses.”

She added later, “If they want to work with us, knock on our door. We’re always willing to have that conversation.”

The CVB uses revenues from the hotel tax to boost tourism throughout the county. Of the $250,000, $150,000 came from the CVB in a rare lump sum for the city’s benefit.

Lawson said the agency did not attempt to seek bids for the project.

Another reason for choosing Axiomport is because it has a native of Elkhart County who was involved in the project, Lawson said.

Concerns over hiring an out-of-town company were voiced in several comments in The Elkhart Truth’s story announcing the advertising blitz. One of the comments was from Todd Allen, who owns Todd Allen Design of Elkhart.

The Truth also heard from others in the community with the same complaint.

Allen wrote, in part in a Truth comment section, “The fact that advertising agencies in the area were not even given a chance to bid on the project is absurd. If a construction project had (been) handed out without local bids the area would be up in arms over the lack of local support.”

Lawson said the other $100,000, which came from the redevelopment commission, will be used for a variety of marketing purposes over the course of a full year. Some of that includes web design.

A large portion of the overall budget is being spent locally, she said.

She pointed to two examples, including a video company and a web design company.

All of the advertising purchases are being spent with local firms, she said.

Axiomport’s work included developing the branding theme, “The Gateway Mile” and a slogan, “Do Downtown Elkhart.”

Those phrases are already on display on banners on the Memorial Bridge in downtown Elkhart.

They are also a key part in a new website, loyalty card and a loan program.

The ad campaign will stretch over three months and begins this week.


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