Rooms & Meals Promotion Competition A Good Idea

The raiding of the Rooms & Meals tax revenue has begun. Two private organizations in town have asked for 10% of the annual Rooms & Meals local option tax revenue to be given to them. They’d like nearly $40,000 and in return they offer a vague promise to promote Brattleboro.  It’s not a terrible idea, but it hasn’t been thought out much beyond asking for money.

Small non-profits have to give more details in a grant application to get $500 than what was presented to the selectboard. There were no media outlets listed, no frequency of ad buys, no message outlined, no campaign announced, no agencies named, and no budget for creating audio, images, or video. Will this pay for salaries? We don’t know.

There was no timeline. No one was specifically in charge of the project. Nothing concrete was presented.

Why not just put out an RFP for an ad agency and skip the middlepeople? Or, offer to give $40,000 away in a worldwide contest?  Or, the Town could aim for a reputation of randomly handing out piles of cash to strangers on the street?

Asking for the money did cause other groups to pay attention. It hadn’t occurred to most people that the property-tax-reducing Rooms & Meals revenue was up for grabs.  

Brattleboro has no shortage of individuals and organizations that can promote the town and bring people to it.   Free money to promote Brattleboro? How do we get some? 

Arts groups are next in line, hoping for a percentage. 

The Literary Festival, Womens’ Film Festival, Jazz Center, Dance Fest, Latchis, Words Project, NECCA, NEYT, and others surely could come up with ways to spend some extra money on targeted promotion to very specific demographics.

I can image a day when local media outlets might want some. Numerous people over the years said iBrattleboro played a role in getting them to move here. Community radio was a selling point for us when we moved. Could 10% help BCTV, Green Mountain Mornings, or others? Yes.

What about schools? Schools are a big reason familes choose to live in an area or not. Perhaps they could use some marketing money?

Differing views of what to promote and who to promote to add to the confusion. Which view of Brattleboro will be promoted?  Brattleboro has excellence, for sure. Brattleboro also isn’t perfect. We struggle with addiction, crime, homelessness, hunger, diveristy, and all sorts of other issues. We have nice stores and fancy places, too.

Who are we trying to attract? Who decides?

Dipping in to the Rooms & Meals tax revenues opens a proverbial can of worms. But it can be rescued.

One member of the public suggested a very good idea to the selectboard — that there be an annual competition for the 10%. This would make it a more fair and open process, with funds available to the best ideas each year, and open to everyone.

Annual proposals could be given to a committee of Representative Town Meeting, an evaluation process could follow, and awards approved by RTM for the best plans.

Criteria would be established so that those making proposals would know what was expected and those judging them would know how to score them.

This would provide an incentive to all members of the community who wish to participate. Competition will bring out the best ideas and approaches. A new, annual “proposal pitch” event could be established. It could be fun. It would be more diverse.

BDCC has done this sort of contest with their business plan competition and CEDS proposals. Brattleboro does this with Human Services and a recent NEA grant. 

The Town gets multiple bids for most projects to ensure the best value. The Town should do the same before giving $40,000 away for promotional purposes.

Comments | 1

  • Promotion $

    I can see investing a portion, say 10%, of the Rooms and Meals tax collections toward a promotional campaign, and I can see the logic of allocating it to a combined effort by the Chamber and the DBA which are broadly-based organizations. But I was disappointed when I asked at the first presentation whether the proponents had developed any sort of budget for how they would spend the money and was told they had not. From the abbreviated report on the Selectboard’s meeting earlier this week, it seems as if they still have not done any serious thinking about how they want to proceed. Moreover, there is does not appear to be any serious thinking about how $41K can be put together with other efforts to promote the town to visitors and potential residents. Forty-one thousand dollars, on its own, is not a lot of money.

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