Tuesday, August 5, 2008

And Again...

Posted by D. A. Smith on Tue, Aug 5, 2008 at 8:59 AM

Here's the latest "So Gay" installment from The State. It's too bad you can't find out any information about this in The Post & Courier, but then again, no one around here wants to be rude to our guests.


S.C. official was worried about public relations impact on state


Upon learning last month the state had approved ads promoting South Carolina as a gay destination, the head of the state’s tourism agency said Monday he wanted the campaign to continue because of public relations concerns.

Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism director Chad Prosser said the agency had no authority to ask the ads be taken down anyway, since the contract was through a third-party British vendor.

“There was nothing that could be done to pull it,” Prosser said. “The campaign was going to end before that whole chain of events could take place.”

Gov. Mark Sanford and others objected to the ad content — calling the state “So Gay” — arguing state tourism dollars were being used to make a political statement. After the ad campaign became news in S.C. — a week after Prosser found out about it — Prosser announced the state would not pay the vendor.

Prosser said he did not ask the ads be removed for three reasons: concerns the advertising and tour companies would use it for free publicity; the agency could not remove the ads; and the campaign had nearly run its course, coinciding with gay pride events in London.

“It shows we made the right decision,” Prosser said of press releases criticizing the state by Amro Worldwide, the tour company, and Out Now Consulting, the advertising firm. “They’ve gotten a tremendous amount of free publicity at South Carolina’s expense.”

Ian Johnson, CEO of Out Now, said the two companies only got involved to correct what they felt were untruths by Prosser and the agency.

“I just find it really strange that the SCPRT think they are somehow doing their state’s industry a favor by creating so much negative publicity for their local tourism industry,” Johnson said. “In 2008, homophobia is just not a smart tourism marketing strategy, if it ever was.

“Shambolic probably does not go far enough in describing their ineptitude.”

Andrew Roberts, CEO of Amro Worldwide, noted the state willingly violated a contract.

Both were disappointed PRT initially tried to blame a “low-level” employee.

Rand Romaine, the employee who approved the campaign, was an agency international marketing manager. Prosser said they were trying to protect Romaine’s identity, and should not have used the “low-level” modifier.

Romaine has since resigned.

According to e-mails released by the agency, PRT employees were surprised to learn that posters advertising South Carolina as a gay destination had been hung in London subway stations.

The e-mails verify the agency’s claim that a lone employee approved the ad campaign without a supervisor’s approval.

But the e-mails also document that on July 3 — a week before the campaign was exposed by blogger Adam Fogle on The Palmetto Scoop — that “per Chad’s direction ... DO NOT ask the vendor to remove South Carolina from the campaign.” Prosser told The State on July 10 that PRT had asked the ads be removed.

The July Fourth holiday and Romaine’s vacation, Prosser said, made it difficult to piece details together initially.

The e-mails show agency officials were anxiously hoping the ad campaign would not become an issue in S.C. The agency’s spokesman wrote on July 3 he was “praying this little story doesn’t jump the pond.”

That same day, Romaine e-mailed agency officials and the British vendor, recommending they pull the ads.

“I made a serious error in judgment regarding the political sensitivities surrounding the marketing opportunities with AMRO Vacations and the London campaign,” Romaine wrote.

Prosser said the agency has changed its policies for approving international advertising. Nonetheless, a number of lawmakers said they were disappointed in the lack of oversight.

“The ads’ content,” said Rep. Greg Delleny, R-Chester, “certainly don’t represent the public policy of the state.”


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