BROOKSVILLE — County officials are hoping to land an expert who can produce a new brand for Hernando and a marketing strategy that will hook new visitors and businesses.
One scenario would be a pitch to "Follow the Mermaid Trail.'' That brand was offered by Tom Barnette of local marketing firm Business Development Strategies.
The company was one of two that tied for first place among county commissioners after they heard oral presentations this week from five companies vying for the contract.
The other was Gold and Associates, based in the Jacksonville area, which has done marketing work for numerous Florida counties and cities, as well as national companies such as Geico, Domino's Pizza and UPS.
With the commissioners tying on their vote, the job of negotiating cost and scope with each of the finalists is in the hands of Russ Wetherington, assistant county administrator for general services. He told commissioners that the two companies offered different kinds of services and, while county officials had been willing to divvy up parts of the marketing task to different companies, he didn't expect that would be possible with the two top picks.
Barnette touted his local knowledge and experience, noting he has unique insight into Hernando County's competition for tourism and economic development. He previously served on the Hernando County Tourist Development Council, including two years as chairman. He also served for a dozen years on the Visit Florida board.
He described his vision for the Mermaid Trail strategy as a journey across Hernando County from the coast to the Withlacoochee State Forest, highlighting the recreational opportunities available to families looking for a destination.
"Families and children — that's our target market,'' he said.
Barnette's concept also includes partnerships with local businesses and attractions to provide discounts and freebies for visitors. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is already on board with the idea, he told commissioners.
The Mermaid Trail idea would be an add-on to the county's existing marketing plans, and Barnette said he already had designed a website at no cost to the county. He said he was flexible as to how the program might mesh with other county efforts and gave figures for how much he would ask to be paid for launching and maintaining the campaign, as well as managing the Mermaid Trail partners program if county officials didn't decide to take on those tasks themselves.
Keith Gold, president and CEO of Gold and Associates, also talked about his local connections. His family has deep roots in the area, he said, and Gold Lake, south of Brooksville, is named for the family. He lives in Floral City and told commissioners he would be the company's local account manager.
Gold said his company employs about 35 people and could provide the full range of marketing tools that Hernando County is hoping to implement.
He described his company's research process and how the staff would craft a marketing plan after its research. He spoke about key features that would draw visitors to Hernando County, including authentic nature-based activities, and features that would attract businesses.
Gold said he would be willing to get the branding and marketing plan up and running and expected that he and his staff would do more work than the $75,000 he believed had been set aside for the annual payment by the county. Any extra work would be performed for no additional charge, he said.
"There's no account we'd love to have more than yours,'' Gold said.
Other companies making presentations were Aqua Marketing and Communications Inc., JSW Creative and Walker Advertising.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.