Marketing RFP - a Question of Legalities & Need
Last Friday, the village website announced a call for an RFP (Request for Proposal) for a marketing firm to do some branding and image work for the village. It took approximately zero point two seconds for the resident community to go a little crazy over this potential use of our tax dollars -- and frankly the timing looks really bad.
Yesterday, the NW Herald ran a story that two of our Trustees have filed a complaint regarding this proposal and they had an interesting interview with our Village President. Of particular note is this gem from our Village President:
He is right, for this board, there's nothing out of the ordinary going on -- but the IL State Code might have a bit of problem with this 'ordinary.' It has become a habit that this board tends to approve things without a budget with the idea that they can just amend the budget at will. What I don't think they realize is that they haven't approved any such budget amendments. In fact, every single time they approve spending money without a prior approved appropriation (budgeted line item) they are breaking the law.
The fact that our Village President, who has served on the board in some capacity since 2017 and on a Village Committee prior does not know this is shocking. That our Village Attorney is not informing the board that this is a violation and puts in jeopardy the contracts they sign is equally as concerning. But for all I know, Mr. Smoron is advising the board that they can't spend without an approved budget authorizing this expense and he's being ignored, I have no way of knowing.
But what is very obvious is that this RFP is curious, in terms of timing, content, and legality.
First, timing. in theory there was a discussion of this about a year ago during a whiteboard session that was neither recorded nor minutes taken (because it was not a meeting). However, during my conversation with Mr. Berman, his emails asking about my thoughts, or my follow-up emails to the board regarding the problems with communication in the village; this prior discussion was not mentioned at all. One would think that given I've had no fewer than 4 separate interactions on the topic of communications and website and email issues, someone would have mentioned that this was on the roadmap from the earlier discussion in 2019, right? However, this RFP was put out on the website a mere 4 days after the campaign packets were made available at Village Hall and on the website. Curious right?
Second, the content of the RFP does not appear to be a simple "website redesign" as was claimed by Phil while he was out campaigning for signatures. Under "Challenges" this Request outlines:
Challenges in Marketing Initiatives Successful marketing efforts are key to ensuring the public knows that these e v e n t s , programs, and services exist. Some of the following challenges have influenced this fragmented approach: Expensive Media Market – The Illinois market is an expensive one; therefore we are looking for innovative and cost effective media channels to promote the Village. Public Perception – There is concern with harm caused by uneducated posts to social media.
This second point is something I think I've heard Phil mention at every recent board meeting. In his Herald interview he outlines that his concern is that social media posts don't get deleted. Since he feels these posts aren't true, he wants them gone; but what he fails to understand is that much of what we see isn't untrue, it is either opinion OR more facts than he'd prefer to be in a public forum.
But then there's the description of scope that the village is asking for -- there are 6 items (one which has 11 sub bullets) that include things like video recording and production (testimonials, not board meetings -- in case you got hopeful, like me) and the use of predictive analytics and model participants for program design and marketing efforts. Really? We are talking about a village of under 4,000 residents and the few events that we had pre-COVID have been attended by less than 1,000 people on average -- I'm not sure the cost-benefit to leveraging sophisticated predictive modeling here.
My professional opinion of this RFP is that it is grossly over scaled for the size and the needs of our village. I have Fortune 500 companies that do not ask for all these things in an RFP for essentially a marketing plan. But since no marketing professional was involved in the creation of the RFP, or taken up on her pro bono offer to do the work, we have this insane request.
Finally, The village is offering a 2 year contract with a renewal up to 10 years. The problem with this that again, this is not legal per IL code. Ordinarily, because you can't sign a contract without prior budget authorization, we should sign anything longer than a 1 year term; but per the Ancel Glink Resource Center there are exceptions -- but "the municipality may enter into a multi-year contract which cannot exceed the term of the Mayor or Village President."
At the end of the day, our board ought to be asking is this really the best use of the dollars we have. I mean, the police department could use a new car; this marketing plan (as outlined) would likely cost similar to that. What about instead of patching Broadway again, we paved it? What about killing weeds in the median? I don't know, but this RFP as outlined would be between $50-$100K in my world -- way too much for the needs of a small village. Heck, we could hire a full-time person to manage the social media and event planning for less than this -- get someone with web design experience and they can update the website. They could use the expertise here in our village for a resident focus group of the real needs for communication -- for free. Any of those things would likely be less expensive and a better use of our tax dollars than this, illegal, RFP.