For the fourth year in a row, local marketing company Axis Culture Group received a unanimous decision from the Payson Town Council to market the town.
The contract continues the Adventure Where We Live campaign Axis helped launch in 2018 during Mayor Craig Swartwood’s tenure. The contract has produced an updated tourism website and a branding campaign specific to the town, mostly geared to attract visitors from the Valley.
The campaign used social media and giveaways to build an audience. Axis then created the Adventure Like A Local initiative that gave away three weekend trips to different age groups. Each winner’s trip was photographed and videotaped. Then they wrote about their experience.
“This is a great way for us to promise what we can actually deliver, through their words,” said owner Joey Klein.
Axis has launched a targeted campaign to get folks from Gilbert to visit. Company analysis found more Gilbert residents visited Payson than from other Valley areas.
Despite all that, almost every year council members have questioned why Axis is the only marketing company they hear about. Council members have wondered why the marketing contract has not gone out for bid. Last year the discussion got quite stormy with some of the council accusing Axis of website mismanagement. At one point, Klein nearly pulled out from the contract.
At the last minute, the council continued working with Axis but told staff it expected to see the contract open up for bids the next year.
During the July 22 council meeting, staff told the council the marketing contract went out to bid this year, but no one applied except Axis.
“We had a total of three inquiries,” said Courtney Spawn, director of parks, recreation and tourism. “Two were from out of state. One was local. Only two requested a bid package. One submitted a complete application.”
The complete application came from Axis.
Spawn reported the other marketing company from out of state declined to apply after learning the needs went beyond their available services.
Councilor Jim Ferris said he had concerns that staff had not adequately advertised the bidding process.
Spawn said she thought they successfully advertised the bid.
Ferris also had concerns that the contract would prevent any bidding process for the next four years.
“I don’t feel comfortable with any firm that is automatically renewable,” said Ferris.
Town Manager Troy Smith said structuring the contract this way saves the town.
“There is a significant amount of staff time to put out this competitive bid,” he said.
Smith explained that extra time adds to the cost of the contract.
The point of the four-year commitment is that, “we are leveraging today’s pricing over a period of time,” he said.
Smith reassured Ferris and the council staff will evaluate Axis each year.
Mayor Tom Morrissey asked that Axis Culture make a presentation each year “so I can (talk) to my constituents about the nitty-gritty.”
Councilor Suzy Tubbs-Avakian wondered why a staff member cannot take over what Axis Culture does. When Axis first received the contract in 2018, then Town Manager LaRon Garrett suggested a town staff member could take over the marketing.
The town relocated Savannah Barr (now Oldeschulte) from the library to parks and recreation. She took on graphic design and executive assistance roles. Oldeschulte has expanded her role to include the business tourism initiative.
Spawn explained the money spent on the Axis contract, $3,000 per month, gives the town access to the company’s eight people on staff.
“We can’t hire somebody for that,” she said. “It would be hard to find anybody with those expertise levels at that value.”
Councilor Jolynn Schinstock liked the termination clause. The contract states, if either party wants to end the contract, they may do so for cause with 60 days’ notice.
Councilor Barbara Underwood trusted the town staff and attorney that wrote up the contract.
“I feel very confident approving this,” she said.
The motion to approve the contract passed unanimously.