In some ways it is hard to know just what to think of council going ahead and spending around $25,000 for the City of Thompson to be featured on the Discover Canada series on Today in America with Terry Bradshaw, the former Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
The issue certainly isn't Bradshaw for those old enough to have been Steelers' fans in the 1970s and early 1980s. The issue – or issues to be a bit more precise – come down to value for money and due diligence.
Coun. Stella Locker and Mayor Tim Johnston both supported the initiative in principle at council Jan. 30, but at the same time were more muted in their enthusiasm in practice. "I took a look at the program, and it wasn't anything that really excited me," said Locker, "yes it would be great, but we haven't got the money for a lot of things I'd like and if you haven't got the money then you can't do it, that's the way I look at it. If we had money in reserve for this then fine, but we don't."
Much of council, however, couldn't get on board fast enough. To bring this picture more into focus, recall movies like Boiler Room and Glengarry Glen Ross, only now located in Coral Springs, Florida at United States Media Television Inc., an independent production company run by Paul Douglas Scott, who has also operated similar Florida companies, including Platinum Television Group, Inc. and New Line Media Solutions, Inc.
Coun. Penny Byer argued, "This will be great for our (Thompson) image and changing our image. You could not buy one advertisement on television for that amount of money, there is nothing that cheap. We have an opportunity for an investment if you will, that will be hard to match in any other way." Perhaps. But for salespersons at United States Media Television Inc. and other similar companies, it's as simple as "ABC," or 'Always Be Closing."
The pitch is simple, really. United States Media Television Inc. calls small cities and says they are looking at doing a story on "Hidden Gems to Live, Work, and Play" for Discover Canada. In essence, a short feature of the community to be produced and inserted into the previously produced magazine-style show to air on a combination of national and regional broadcast networks.
The catch (and isn't there always one) is the story comes with a price tag of $20,000 to $30,000 generally, unlike when a city gets covered by the media for free (think here of the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010 or the upcoming London Summer Olympics this year.)
Vale smelter and refinery shutting down in 2015? No Power Smart Manitoba Winter Games here in 2014? Staples, Rogers and Blockbuster all leave town last year? Think of it as a sales psychology that plays on the potential small-town customers' economic development insecurities – and there's plenty of towns out there ripe for the picking, not just Thompson.
The salespersons at Platinum Television Group, Inc. used to tell potential clients on the telephone they were "creative directors" until a 2007 run-in with Robert Julian, economic crimes bureau chief in Fort Lauderdale for the South Florida Region of the Department of Legal Affairs for the Florida Attorney General's Office, and his inquiry under Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.
The matter was brought to a close when Scott and Platinum Television Group, Inc. agreed to amend some of their business practices and entered into an "Assurance of Voluntary Compliance" with the AG's office "without any admission that respondents have violated Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act or any other law and for the purpose of settlement in this matter only, and the attorney general, by and through its undersigned assistant attorney general being in agreement, does in this matter accept this assurance .… respondents shall not falsely state nor imply that a potential client's proposed contract is subject to an exaggerated approval process, where such statements are intended to create a false impression that acceptance is based on factors other than an ability to pay." Also, "Respondents shall not state nor imply that a potential client is competing with another potential client or clients for a position or placement in a television show produced or aired by respondents."
The objectives of the Thompson production will be to educate and inform viewers on things such as: the quality of life in Thompson, the many amenities the city has to offer, the history, lifestyle, education and infrastructure, as well as why this would be an ideal community to raise a family.
After the concerns about the production came to light, a working group led by Byer from the elected political side of the process and city manager Gary Ceppetelli from the administrative side, reviewed the situation before any money was sent.
Ceppetelli told the Thompson Citizen last week they spoke to both the company, for reassurances, and two clients – one in Ontario, the other in Arizona – to check how satisfied they were with United States Media Television Inc. and the Discover Canada Series on Today in America. While he didn't identify the communities by name, Ceppetelli says they both expressed satisfaction with what they got for their money.
Fair enough, although it would have been nice if the City of Thompson had learned of all this before – and not after – they agreed to fork over $25,000. That would have been ideally a better time to do its due diligence, not after the fact.