Zimmerman’s Tough Sell

During their presentation to the Pensacola City Council last night, representatives from the Zimmerman Agency distributed copies of a recent issue of the Gulf Coast Business Review featuring a large picture of Mayor Ashton Hayward and a write-up on the city. The article, entitled ‘Punchline No More’, was offered up by the firm as evidence of their marketing efforts on the city’s behalf.

“Would you like to have your newspapers back?” Council Vice President Ronald Townsend asked after the presentation. “Yeah, take that propaganda back.”

It was a friendly joke. But everything that had preceded it was not.

Ever since the Zimmerman Agency was brought aboard to handle the city’s marketing needs earlier this year, the Pensacola City Council has had questions about the deal. During last night’s Committee of the Whole meeting, the marketing reps listened as the council unleashed months of pent up frustration.

“Today you’re hearing some things you need to hear,” Councilman John Jerralds told them. “From what I’m hearing we have a marketing mess.”

Zimmerman, a Tallahassee firm, has been contracted to handle marketing for the city, as well as Pensacola Energy (ESP), the port and the airport. It’s services will cost more than a million dollars for the first year. During recent budget sessions, council requested that the firm make a presentation.

“Again, is this appropriate use for our taxpayer dollars?” Councilwoman Maren DeWeese asked during the COW meeting.

Carrie Zimmerman, the agency’s head, made the pitch to the city herself. She spoke through an ever-present grin in exclamatory sentences and appeared unphased by council’s discussion.

“I love, absolutely adore the passion everybody has for Pensacola, period,” Zimmerman told the board.

The council’s “passion” had been somewhat lopsided. While Councilman Brian Spencer described the firm’s presentation as “enlightening,” others on the board were less complimentary. Jerralds was “deeply insulted,” Councilwoman Sherri Myers was “offended” and Councilman Larry B. Johnson found the agency’s efforts thus far “disappointing to me.”

During their presentation to the council, the Zimmerman Agency outlined its primary objective of luring businesses that are looking to relocate. They described Pensacola as a “small town that has a big future,” a “blank slate” that needs to position itself to “capture a larger share of the future.”

The council was shown print ads and television spots. They were told local success stories—such as businessmen Quint Studer, Collier Merrill and Julian MacQueen and actress Katie Mixon—would be used to sell the area to the outside world.

“We want to make sure we are using your superstars,” Zimmerman said.

The marketing team introduced terms like “media experiences,” “earned media” and “layering.” They told the council that Hayward would soon be appearing in a Travel Channel feature.

“We work with Anderson Cooper and Katie Couric and all the morning shows,” Zimmerman said.

Councilman Johnson asked the firm if there had been any coordination with the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce’s marketing efforts. He was told that the Chamber focused more on tourism marketing, whereas Zimmerman focused on business marketing and that “everybody is still, a little bit, doing their own thing.”

“It just seems to me it’d be more effective if we were all on the same page,” Johnson said.

City Administrator Bill Reynolds said that the city was tending to internal needs prior to outside coordination.

“I think this is a multistep process and the first step is getting our own house in order,” he said.

Councilwoman Megan Pratt took issue with the new city logo and tagline that Zimmerman has offered up. Along with a beach ball-and-wave logo, the city is shifting from “The City of Five Flags” to “The Upside of Florida.”

“Why do we need to build ourselves up by tearing others down?” Pratt asked, wondering how Councilman P.C. Wu might explain the slogan to his fellow officials in the Florida League of Cities.

Pratt also noted that implementation of Zimmerman’s makeover will be costly. She specifically pointed out the plan to repaint local water towers with the new logo.

“That idea would cost half a million dollars,” she said. “Someone didn’t do their homework on that.”

Council members also questioned the agency about why they were not focusing more on city neighborhoods and areas other than downtown and Pensacola Beach. They asked if other public entities, like the school district or local hospitals, would be pitching in on the firm’s bill. DeWeese mentioned—as she has on prior occasions—that Zimmerman was involved with Okaloosa County during its recent yacht scandal.

Though the thrashing seemed to sap a bit of the spring out of their step, the Zimmerman team kept smiling throughout their time at city hall. The council wrapped up the conversation with a round of compliments on the agency’s “professionalism.”

“Someday we will talk about the yacht, because we were 100 percent against it and had nothing to do with it” Zimmerman said as her team packed up. “It drives me nuts.”