Thursday, July 24, 2008

Zoo Views

Midge: “Don’s in advertising.”
Roy: “No way! Madison Avenue? What a gas!”
Midge: “We all have to serve somebody.”
Roy: “Perpetuating the lie. How do you sleep at night?”
Don: “On a bed made of money.”
-- Mad Men, season 1, episode 6
The perilous financial state of the Northwest Florida Zoo, located midway between Gulf Breeze and Navarre, is the featured subject of today's local content on the Pensacola News Journal's editorial page.

First, there is an op-ed by Ginni Lemaster, identified as a volunteer docent at the Zoo ("Don't Let the Zoo Get Away from Us"). Then, there is the paper's own editorial ("Tough Sell on Zoo Support"). Finally, there is an editorial cartoon by Andy Marlette (caption: "If the county doesn't come through, maybe we can get a federal bailout like everyone else these days.")

The editorial strikes us as the most disappointing of the three. It starts strongly enough...
No one wants to see The Zoo Northwest Florida close its gates. It is a surprisingly sophisticated operation to be found outside a large metropolitan area, a valuable tourism draw and a unique opportunity for area school children.
... but almost immediately sinks into a series of dithering cavils that boil down to the editorial's final sentence: "with governmental budgets shrinking, and tourism promotion dollars tight, it's a tough sell."

On balance, it seems the editorial board would like to support the Zoo but can't see how local governments can afford it. Yet, one answer lies in the middle of the editorial itself. In Escambia county, the editorial observes --
tourism officials are increasingly vocal about needing additional bed-tax dollars to market the area more aggressively. They are pressing that argument against the use of bed-tax revenue to support the Pensacola Civic Center, and are unlikely to see a higher priority in supporting the zoo.
Translation: Pensacola area advertising agencies who are paid, in gross, millions of tax dollars annually by city and county governments, via their local chambers of commerce and visitor centers, to "promote" Northwest Florida are competing for those public dollars against the very attractions and services that draw people to the area, entertain them while they're here, and inspire many to relocate here.

As just one example, we've seen this phenomenon on Pensacola Beach for years. Annually, as other pressing needs go unmet, the largest single budgeted expenditure of the Island Authority typically is buried in a line item which at times exceeds $600,000, masking no-bid contracts with one prominent advertising agency.

The effectiveness or efficiency of devoting such a huge number of taxpayer dollars to commercial advertising is hardly well proven. How much more questionable is it when public agencies continue spending money on promotion at the expense of worthy things to promote?

That question won't keep the ad men from sleeping at night. Nor -- dare we say it? -- the journalists whose own jobs also depend on advertising expenditures.

1 comment:

Bryan said...

We have all kinds of money for ads, but no money for the improvements needed when people show up.

It's the stupid budget system in this state with specific taxes only allowed to be used for specific purposes.

There's money for new school buses, but no money for drivers or fuel. Stupid!

My Dad loved the Zoo. If the weather was semi-decent he would be there a couple of times a month, and took visitors to see it.

What the hell else is there to do in Santa Rosa county when the beach is closed because of rip tides?