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Panel says stick with ad agency

In a move that didn't surprise anyone - including another company competing for the contract - the Tourist Development Council on Wednesday recommended that Gold & Associates remain the county's advertising and public relations firm.

The County Commission will review the recommendation Tuesday.

Gold & Associates, which has marketed the county for the TDC since 2002, won the contract for 2006-07 back in July.

But another company that bid on the job, Nature Coast Tourism Development Services, challenged the choice because of a phrase in the county's request for proposals. The document suggested that competing companies might consider stepping outside the meeting room while the others were presenting as a "professional courtesy" - a technical violation of Florida's open meeting law.

The contract with Gold was voided. When it was bid again, only two companies submitted proposals: Gold and Tomes Rabold Advertising and Design Inc. of Ocala. Both made presentations to the tourism council Wednesday.

Keith Gold of Gold & Associates reminded the council of his company's extensive background in advertising and public relations, including major clients such as Disney, Geico Insurance and Nike. He spoke about his award-winning campaigns and briefly highlighted what kinds of programs the company has already spearheaded for Citrus County tourism.

"Our strength is in our strategic positioning and our branding," he said.

Gold also spoke about his agency's commitment to the community, noting it has donated $150,000 in time and money.

He also said that he believes his agency's fee proposal is fair, but he offered to match any other company's fees. The proposal from Gold included fees of $5,000 per month plus $1,200 per month for Internet design and programming services.

After that presentation, the council heard from Melissa Cheshire and Tandra Rabold of the Tomes Rabold agency.

"We know we're back here on a technicality," Cheshire said. "We know that you're happy with (Gold & Associates), but we just wanted to reintroduce ourselves to you."

They focused on the work they have done over the last six months serving as Levy County's advertising firm and the fact that, as a smaller, local firm, they did not have a high overhead cost. Their proposed fee was $7,000 per month.

TDC members quizzed the two on how they work with the Marion County Chamber of Commerce since Gold & Associates does tourism marketing in Marion County.

"It's totally different," Cheshire said, referring to what her company does for the chamber and what Gold does to promote Marion County tourism.

The discussion was a reflection on the TDC's recently tumultuous relationship with the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce. The TDC ended its contract with the chamber this year. The chamber then hired Amy Virgo of Nature Coast Tourism Development, the agencythat challenged Gold's selection this summer.

TDC member Gail Oakes also asked Tomes Rabold representatives how they thought the county's marketing was going and Cheshire said, "the materials you have I believe are very nice."

She also noted that the Citrus tourism billboard on Interstate 75 was "eye-catching" and that "everything looks very top notch" in their media plan.

TDC members thanked Cheshire and Rabold for coming back, then graded the two companies for services, ability to perform the job and fee structure.

Gold received 892 points and Tomes Rabold's 654. Each of the nine TDC members could award 100 points.

After the TDC voted to recommend Gold to the County Commission, TDC Chairman Gary Bartell told Gold, "Sorry for the delay, but we've got there. ... This means we can get back in business."

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at 564-3621 or behrendt@sptimes.com.

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