Rivals will promote convention center

Rivals will promote convention center

Staff WriterNovember 9, 2005 

The Triangle's two largest public relations agencies will share a contract to promote the new Raleigh convention center, a client that had sparked a public dispute between them.

In an unconventional move, a partnership of the Raleigh Convention Center and the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau decided to hire fierce crosstown rivals Capstrat and French/West/Vaughan. The two Raleigh agencies will handle different aspects of the marketing and public relations effort for the $192 million convention center being built downtown.

When Capstrat won a short-term contract from the convention center this year, French/West CEO Rick French complained that Capstrat's political connections gave it an unfair advantage. Capstrat and convention officials disputed that claim.

Did French's complaints influence the selection committee? "I don't think it played a positive role," said Doug Grissom, assistant director of the convention center.

Because the two agencies will have different assignments, it's unclear whether, or how much, they will need to collaborate. "I don't know if they'll work together, but they will be working for the same client," Grissom said.

French said of the arrangement: "We are happy to work with ... [Capstrat] if we need to, because ultimately it's about the client, not about the agencies."

Under the arrangement, Capstrat will do the majority of the work.

It will receive a $12,000 monthly retainer for its work, which will include Web site development, marketing, placing ads, and local and North Carolina public relations work.

French/West will receive a $4,000 monthly retainer for regional and national public relations.

The contracts begin in December and end in June. In addition, Distill, a Raleigh ad agency, has been hired to assess the convention center's efforts and the messages it disseminates.

Grissom said the convention center is happy with Capstrat, but decided to carve up the work "to make sure we have different sets of eyes."

"We love the city and we enjoy a strong relationship with the client," said Billy Warden, account director at Capstrat. "We are chomping at the bit to keep up the good work."

Technically, Capstrat is being retained by the convention center and French/West has been engaged by the visitors bureau. But they were chosen by the two organizations, and the money to pay the agency fees comes from the same source -- Wake County's hotel occupancy, prepared food and beverage taxes.

Staff writer David Ranii can be reached at 829-4877 or davidr@newsobserver.com.

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