Taxpayers send money to Missouri to promote tourism in Tennessee

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — Tennessee taxpayers will pay upwards of $60 million across state lines so a Kansas City-based marketing firm can promote tourism for a government agency.

In a release, Tennessee Department of Tourist Development officials announced late last month they have selected VML, a global marketing agency, for a five-year contract to increase tourism in Tennessee.

But why is taxpayer money going to an out-of-state firm, especially considering the fact the state — particularly in Nashville — has so many marketing firms of its own?

WELCOME: Tennessee taxpayers are paying money across state lines for tourism purposes.

In an e-mail, TDTD spokeswoman Cindy Dupree told Tennessee Watchdog the government agency awarded the contract through a competitive procurement process, and VML offered the highest scoring proposal.

“A list of approximately 40 vendors across the nation were contacted,” Dupree said. “At least eight of these proposers were from Tennessee.”

The TDTD previously contracted with two Tennessee-based firms, White Thompson LLC and DesignSensory Inc. for the same work, Dupree said.

Contracts with those two firms ended last month, she said.

The tourism release said VML, which has offices scattered throughout the world, will open an office in Nashville, but the release didn’t say when.

“Our understanding from VML is that they plan to open an office in Nashville as soon as possible,” Dupree said. “Our understanding from VML is that they have a short list of locations for their Nashville office, but they have not yet selected a location.”

VML officials acknowledged receiving three of Tennessee Watchdog’s questions about the matter in an email Thursday, but as of Friday failed to answer them.

According to the tourism release, VML will focus on attracting national and international visitors to the state.

The firm will start its first marketing campaign this summer, according to the release.

LITERATURE: A piece of tourism-related literature from the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development’s website.

“The contract has a maximum liability of $60 million over five years,” Dupree said in her e-mail. “We currently have $6.5 million allocated from the department’s current FY 2013-2014 budget, with subsequent annual allocations subject to enactment of future budgets.”

The advertising contract includes website, social media, research and public relations work, Dupree said.

VML also does marketing work for the Nashville-based Bridgestone Americas Inc. and the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corps, according to the release.

This is the first time the TDTD has contracted with VML, Dupree said.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org. or follow him and submit story ideas on his official Facebook page.

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