Downtown West Bend BID board talks upcoming marketing plan
Controversy after Diva Group requests increased funding

By RALPH CHAPOCO - Daily News Staff

Jan. 12, 2018

Clara Olson of West Bend smiles as she enjoys lunch with her brother, Sam, at Sal's Pizza on Thursday afternoon in downtown West Bend. The Downtown Business Improvement District for the city of West Bend presented their marketing plan for the new year to include more advertisement in multiple platforms.
John Ehlke/Daily News

For two years, members of the Business Improvement District had been subsidizing advertising activities designed to promote downtown West Bend and the retailers that line the streets.

Entering the third year of the campaign, some are beginning to question whether they can continue to support the marketing measures as the request for funding continues to increase.

Improvement District board members elected to withhold approving the marketing budget that Anna Jensen, events director for the Downtown West Bend Association, and Diva Group member Jeanne Renick proposed during Tuesday’s meeting.

Instead, they opted to leverage the experience of one of their colleagues recently appointed to the board.

“I would like to throw a proposal out there that we table this discussion, and we look to (Kathleen Murphy) to look at this and maybe have a conversation with the group who put this together,” President Mike Husar said. “I would also like, as part of that proposal, to ask Adam (Gitter) to come up with an idea that goes along with what I proposed, of getting an inventory of buildings, of types of businesses, and what kinds of costs we would be looking at to do that.”

Murphy is a board member with experience in marketing, while Gitter is the economic development manager for the city.

The collaboration between the Improvement District and Diva Group began in 2016 when the board members allocated about $5,000 to the Diva Group for events and other advertisements that include air time on local television stations.

In 2017, the budget was increased to about $12,000. About $2,000 of which paid for Diva Group gatherings such as the Spring Bling. Another $1,000 was dedicated to general marketing throughout 2017. There were additional dollars earmarked for commercials to promote the downtown West Bend area.

A vehicle is seen moving north on Main Street on Thursday afternoon in downtown West Bend.
John Ehlke/Daily News

The proposed budget for 2018 increased to almost $20,000 spread among 10 initiatives.

“This year, we brought things more local,” Renick said. “We are going to do all things within roughly the West Bend area and the surrounding communities.”

Jensen and Renick’s proposal was comprised of advertisements at high school, little league and ice hockey athletic programs, plays and musical events, parks and recreation booklets, walking maps and community guides, as well as social media posts.

The two proposed continuing the Diva Group events, allocating $2,000 in sponsorship funds and another $1,000 for a design consultation.

Questions regarding the proposal drew questions and concerns almost immediately, especially with the proposed funding for billboard advertising, $5,000.

“You are not going to get very far with that $5,000,” Murphy said. “I don’t know if that is the best use of your dollars. You will be lucky to get an effective billboard for two months.”

The marketing plan exposed impassioned divisions among Improvement District members. At one end were board members Brian Culligan and Peggy Fischer, who favored the proposal.

“I do like where you guys are headed,” Fischer said. “I think it is important that the funds are used to water the seeds that have been planted in West Bend. We need to grow this market. We still have people who don’t know what is even going on in downtown and that is where it is going to spread. It is going to start here, and it is going to spread out.”

On the other side was board member Herb Tennies.

“Where is our tool to measure what we are getting out of this?” he asked. “I look at this Diva Group, that is getting less and less every time. We see less people at the downtown. Last time they ran Diva, I saw about three or four people that crossed the street who were walking with bags. I never see any of that traffic in my store.”

Tennies has been vocal about his opposition to the marketing program. During prior meetings regarding the program, he questioned if it was even permitted to spend money for advertising.

“Is Main Street bubbling?” Tennies asked. “I don’t think so.”

He noted the increase in the budget for marketing, and wondered why more resources cannot be directed toward improvement projects that would be benefit the area’s aesthetics — landscaping and green spaces.

“I am also a fanatic, and analytic about results, and through this whole marketing program, I have continually asked them, and others have to, to demonstrate to us return on investment,” said Anthony Jasen, BID board member. “You have to have the ROI … I cannot make financial decisions until there is data that is going to tell me there is going to be a return on investment.”

Fischer countered that return on investment and other performance measures cannot be attributed to one event because of other intangible factors such as weather and the timing of the event. It is difficult to trace the sales results to a specific initiative.

Culligan added that performance measures can be established for specific direct marketing initiatives, but the proposed plan is a “shot gun” approach that attempts to make inroads with consumers using varied media.

Husar also pitched his idea — directing some of the funds toward taking an inventory of the buildings and areas that are vacant and the businesses that are present. They can then use that information as a marketing tool to entice other businesses to establish themselves in the downtown.

He believed the increased activity would generate additional revenues for everyone.