“Excited and honored” vs. “incredibly sad and ridiculous”
A decision by Visit Baltimore, the city’s official sales and marketing arm, to select Tampa-based Spark as its creative marketing agency of record has generated a backlash from members of the local creative community who question the need to leave Maryland in search of creative services.
According to a press release issued by Spark, “Visit Baltimore set out to find an agency partner with the clear intent of strengthening the city’s brand appeal on a local, national, and global scale. They sought an agency that excels at turning strong strategic insights into impactful messaging, enhancing brand equity, amplifying awareness, and driving visits to the city.”
The release noted that Spark “will play a crucial role in evolving Visit Baltimore’s brand,” which was initially launched in 2020 after decades as the Baltimore Area Convention & Visitors Association.
“Visit Baltimore is more than just a destination marketing organization; it’s a reflection of our city’s heart, history, and future,” said Al Hutchinson, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore. “In Spark, we’ve found a partner that can bring our incredible brand to new heights while crafting narratives that showcase our unique offerings and resonate with leisure and business travelers as well as convention attendees. Together, we’re determined to present Baltimore in its most authentic and vibrant light, emphasizing ‘Charm City’ as a must-visit destination on the world stage.”
“We’re really excited and honored to help share what makes Baltimore so special. This isn’t just about making awesome and innovative campaigns — it’s about telling the real stories of the city, its culture, and its people,” said Michael Peters, Spark’s founder & chief creative officer. “We want to show the world the Baltimore we see and love, making it a place everyone will want to experience for themselves.”
Not feeling the love
While Spark is excited and honored, not so for most of the 80+ commenters on a LinkedIn post generated by Matt McDermott, president of Baltimore’s Humble & Wallop and former president of the American Advertising Federation Baltimore.
McDermott noted that, “For the second time, Visit Baltimore has chosen a creative agency outside of Baltimore (and Maryland) to handle its efforts to attract visitors to Baltimore. Curious what decisions like this suggest about the perception local organizations have about the local advertising industry.”
“So incredibly sad and ridiculous,” responded Ed Callahan, creative strategist and co-founder of Baltimore’s Planit. “Been watching one Baltimore institution after another’s revolving door of marketing teams do the same thing for 30 years. How about you pick an award winning nationally recognized local agency and team that clearly has the chops, works for the biggest brands around the country and work with them together to build something great rather than quickly forcing companies to bring a bunch of ideas to you for free for a tiny budgeted program.
“You really think they have the time to put their best people in this process. As soon as this campaign starts, they will see how an out of state agency doesn’t work. It has failed every time for last 30 years. Boo, this is just another fail for Maryland and Baltimore,” Callahan wrote.
Others took jabs at the optics of the selection and Spark’s talk of capturing Baltimore’s “authentic” vibe.
“Hate it. People in Tampa do not understand Baltimore any more than people in Baltimore understand Tampa. Which is like zero,” wrote John Sherman, CEO and Creative Director of Baltimore-based Storyfarm, a Capitol Communicator sponsor.
“No, they get us, John Sherman; they watched The Wire,” quipped Bobby Gillespie of boutique brand strategy and creative services agency Propr.
Read more of the LinkedIn commentary about the controversial move HERE
In 2019, the Capitol Communicator reported on Visit Baltimore’s partnership with the Philadelphia-based Bellweather Agency as lead creative agency to work with Baltimore-based TBC and destination marketing agency Miles Partnership, based in Sarasota, Fla.
Main image: Creative from Spark destination campaign for Visit Newport Beach