Tale of 2 Philly visitor agencies likely to go on

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) - When it comes to selling itself, Philadelphia is a bit like Noah’s Ark: it has two of everything.

There are two marketing agencies, two websites, and two slogans. There are two chief executives, two finance officers, two marketing staffs - all taxpayer supported.

Which, for some, is one too many of everything.

“We in the hotel community never truly understood it,” said William Walsh, who managed the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown for 10 years. “We always asked if it would make more economic sense to combine talent and resources.”

Bill Gullan, president of Finch Brands, a local firm that counsels companies on how to brand themselves, is more pointed.

“The structure of our regional marketing apparatus is nonsensical,” he wrote in a recent blog post, “and ultimately self-defeating.”

At issue are PHLCVB (Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau), the marketing arm of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, and VisitPhiladelphia, a nonprofit created in 1996 at the urging of then-Mayor Ed Rendell, who thought more should be done to boost non-convention tourism.

PHLCVB is contractually answerable to the Convention Center. VisitPhiladelphia, formerly known as Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corp., answers only to its board.

Each is funded by the city’s hotel tax. PHLCVB pays its CEO, Jack Ferguson, 66, about $356,000 a year. Meryl Levitz, 66, VisitPhiladelphia’s head, receives about $425,000 a year.

On paper, each organization has a different mission - one to pursue conventions, the other leisure tourists. Despite that division of labor, there has been 18 years of funding disputes, turf battles, and consultant reports urging more cooperation.

The latest snit? PHLCVB’s announcement last month that it was promoting a new slogan for the region: “PHL: Here for the Making.”

The tagline was rolled out with much hoopla at a news conference that included Mayor Nutter and a number of prominent business leaders.

Missing from the dais, but watching from the edges of the crowd, was Levitz, who was dismissive of the slogan.

“People don’t understand what it means,” she said.

VisitPhiladelphia would keep its own, thank you, was Levitz’s message. So it continues to market the city with its signature “With Love, Philadelphia, xoxo” campaign. Which is significant, since VisitPhiladelphia spends about $5.5 million of its $12 million annual budget on paid advertising. The bulk of PHLCVB’s $12 million budget goes to sales efforts.

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