Can downtown stakeholders band together in support of one united marketing campaign?
As an outsider to Sarasota, Stephanie Immelman was focused on emphasizing one message as downtown leaders met Tuesday morning and debated the best strategy for promoting the heart of the city as a destination.
“If you guys don’t come together, if you guys continue to do disparate actions, you’re never going to be successful,” Immelman said.
Immelman, executive director of the Delray Beach Marketing Cooperative, has been a central figure in an ongoing conversation about whether different downtown groups can work together on advertising initiatives.
After the Downtown Improvement District invited Immelman to speak at a December meeting to discuss marketing and special events, the board hired her to help devise a strategy for creating a centralized authority focused on promoting the downtown area. The conversation expanded to include the Downtown Sarasota Alliance, with incoming DSA Chairman Shay Atluru working to reorganize the group to focus on achieving that goal.
Previous efforts to get downtown stakeholders to unite behind a shared cause have been unsuccessful. Different constituents, different boundaries and different goals among leadership have led to divisions, which result in different groups pursuing different promotional strategies.
Those divisions flared up during Tuesday’s Downtown Improvement District meeting, where Atluru and Immelman were seeking approval to embark on the first phase of a joint promotional campaign. They were joined by current DSA Chairwoman Francine DiFilippo Kent and Raymmar Tirado, founder of media company Sarasota Underground and the chosen creative director of the DSA marketing initiative.
The group had requested about $14,000 for the first phase of implementing the new marketing strategy, which included the development of partnership agreements, reorganizing the DSA and undertaking legal reviews. For a full year, the group was hoping to get more than $100,000 in funding from the DID — more than double what the DID currently budgets for advertising.
That was a point of concern for DID board member Mark Kauffman. He was worried about the self-taxing entity being the only contributor to the marketing initiative, particularly because the DID has a relatively limited footprint within the greater downtown area.
He also rattled off a list of other initiatives the group wanted to pursue, which were largely related to capital improvement, and he questioned whether marketing should be a priority.
“Do we have the money to put all this in here?” Kauffman said.
Immelman and Tirado said the group would seek additional funding sources, including monetizing the web presence of the marketing campaign.
DID board member Ron Soto, meanwhile, was unconvinced the DSA group’s strategy was optimal for promoting downtown. Soto is president of the Sarasota Downtown Enrichment Association, a merchant group that does its own promotional and marketing work. Soto suggested his organization had a larger reach on Facebook than both Sarasota Underground and the DSA, and he said the group wouldn’t stop its promotional work even if the DSA initiative got funded.
“The bottom line is, I’m not going to change anything for one reason: We’re doing a hell of a job,” Soto said.
Both Immelman and Atluru expressed optimism they could collaborate with Soto. Atluru said he moved to Sarasota relatively recently, and he hoped he would be unencumbered by any baggage that might have prohibited more productive partnerships in the past.
“As far as I can see, we’re one great big happy downtown,” Atluru said. “That’s where we want to be.”
Ultimately, the DID agreed to fund the $14,000 first phase of the marketing initiative, directing the DSA group to work with Soto to update its strategy and hopefully develop broader support.
Atluru said the promotional effort was a work in progress and that he hoped a broad coalition of downtown stakeholders could come together to contribute what they could. Immelman agreed and reiterated her belief that the concept could only succeed if everyone was participating.
“It’s not a zero-sum game,” Immelman said. “We have to be doing it together.”