However, approval doesn’t come without some tense words between councilmembers

By Mike Chaldu

In its regular meeting on Monday, June 26, the Solvang City Council approved the six-month hiring of a new marketing firm, but not before some heated between members of the council.

Item 6e was for Discussion and possible action regarding whether to direct staff to engage Tom Jones & Associates Inc. (TJA) for Tourism Marketing Services in the amount not to exceed $108,000 for the term July 1 to Dec. 31 of this year.

TJA CEO John Sorgenfrei came to the podium to give his presentation and was joined remotely by his Social Media Manager Claudia Torkelson

Sorgenfrei began by saying that although he might be looked upon as a vendor, he would be more of a partner during his time working with the city. He also pointed out he was well aware of the fact that Solvang is one of the state’s most dependent cities on the Transit Occupancy Tax (TOT), and also pointed out his experience of working with other Central Coast communities such as Pismo Beach, Morro Bay, and Avila Beach.

He laid the five things he would concentrate on for Solvang’s marketing plan: Audit of current creative assets; production of new photography, copy, and videos when needed; overhaul of the city website; social media enhancement; a highly targeted fall advertising campaign; and a revised long-term marketing plan after six months.

The entire package would cost the city $108,000, according to Sorgenfrei

Sorgenfrei also said he would have no problem working with Stiletto Marketing (PR and advertising) and Islett Agency (social media), both of whom the city hired last month.

Then, Torkelson, on Zoom, explained her ideas to improve social media for Solvang: Weekly blogs, expanding to different platforms, partnering with influencers, and running social media ads.

After Sorgenfrei was done, and it was time for council comment, Clarke spoke, it was clear that he was an advocate for TJA to work with the city.

“My wife and I spent a couple days in Pismo Beach during the pandemic and I talked to people there who really sold me on you,” he said to Sorgenfrei. “I’m very impressed and I’m glad you’re here. You come from the Central Coast and you know this market. I think you can help Solvang.”

However, Councilmembers Elizabeth Orona and Claudia Orona, were each hesitant about bringing on another marketing agency when the city still does not have a marketing manager in place.

Claudia Orona asked City Manager Randy Murphy who was going to manage the contract.

“It would have to be me,” said Murphy, who didn’t seem to think it would be a problem. “TJA makes sense, they’ll help us answer these questions.”

When Elizabeth Orona again state her concern about the lack of a marketing manager, Sorgenfrei said, “I look forward to working with your city manager; I’m very flexible.”

Claudia Orona asked Sorgenfrei, how he would make Solvang seem special to tourists compared to his other clients like Pismo Beach and Avila Beach.

“It would be that it’s a Danish village,” Sorgenfrei answered. “It’s special to me. I’ve been coming here since I was a child. It’s unique; it’s a piece of Europe that you can’t find anywhere else without getting on an airplane.”

He also said the area is also unique as a wine destination.

“For wine, it’s got legs,” Sorgenfrei added. “It’s still remembered for [the movie] ‘Sideways’; it’s world-renowned for pinot noirs. Its uniqueness as a destination is why people will come.”

However, Elizabeth and Claudia Orona continued to voice concerns about the lack of a marketing manager, pointing out that’s what led to the city ending its deal with a previous marketing company, the Abbi Agency.

“Our comments are not reflective of your ability,” Elizabeth Orona told Sorgenfrei. “We did not execute on our side.”

It was at this point that Clarke was noticeably annoyed, and when Claudia Orona told Sorgenfrei “we just don’t want to make the same mistake twice,” Clarke audibly exclaimed “Oh, my God.”

Then, after Mayor Mark Infanti recommended approval of the contract saying “TJA has the experience, can look at our website and tell us what we need. Give them six months,” Clarke commented “This is killing me.”

As Infanti tried to calm him, Clark then continued: “People that I’ve talked to that I respect recommend him. I get upset you don’t give him the respect

He’s getting this pushback.”

Clarke then said a few minutes later, “we’re looking a gift horse in the mouth; we’re playing games with this man.”

To that Claudia Orona answered: “It’s not a game, it’s over $100,000 of taxpayer money.”

Finally, Infanti motioned to approve the contract with an emphatic second by Clarke.

The motion passed 3-2, with Councilmember David Brown siding with Infanti and Clarke, and Elizabeth and Claudia Orona voting no.

The next council meeting will be Monday, July 10, at 6:30 p.m.