This Out-of-State Firm Splashed Competition for Aquarium Contract

June 16, 2016

The Gulfport Redevelopment Commission plans to hire a Baton Rouge firm to market The Mississippi Aquarium, slated to for a downtown space across from Jones Park.

Carole Lynn Meadows, GRC chairwoman, said MESH Integrated Marketing and Advertising scored highest of six finalists.

"When the dust settled, MESH was outstanding."

"We tried to look at all the proposals fairly to see what the best fit was going to be for what we needed," Meadows said. "When the dust settled, MESH was outstanding."

MESH will be responsible for the marketing campaign to raise money for the $65 million aquarium, launch the project and, during the aquarium's first year, work on funding to sustain it. The ambitious campus that will incorporate the coastal environment and its marine life, from fresh water to saltwater, is under design and is supposed to open in early 2019.

Other finalists

Also on the list of finalists were three Mississippi groups: Big 3 Advertising, with offices in Gulfport and Biloxi; The Focus Group, based in Gulfport; and GodwinGroup, which has offices in Jackson and Gulfport. Other finalists were O'Brien Advertising in Denver and the Kitchen Sink Group in Phoenix.

"I think any reasonable person would expect it to go to a Mississippi firm," said Ted Riemann, owner of The Prime Time Agency in Gulfport and managing partner of Big 3. "But with that said, I'm old enough to know life throws you curve balls and you just have to move on."

Big 3 is a joint venture with well-known Coast advertising and public relations professionals Reed Guice of The Guice Group and Laura Hasty of The Ad Group.

"It was probably the finest proposal our group has ever made," Riemann said, "but that's my opinion."

Keeping score

Meadows said a panel of eight interviewed and scored the finalists. Serving on the panel were GRC members Meadows, Sal Domino, Don Halle and Don Mason; Mayor Billy Hewes, Gulfport Chief Administrative Officer John Kelly, and City Council members Rusty Walker and Ricky Dombrowski. The city then tabulated the results to select the winning proposal.

Meadows said panelists were assigned numbers on the scorecards, so the proposals were anonymous. MESH, she said, was the "clear winner." The group fully integrated digital marketing into its campaign, including a mobile application aquarium visitors can use, a 3-D presentation with goggles and a prototype of the website MESH would build.

Representatives of MESH declined to comment on the firm's selection because the contract has not yet been negotiated and signed. Meadows expects contract negotiations will take place next week.

"The committee members went into it with a clean slate," she said. "We were looking for that group that had the spark we needed for such an incredible project as this. It is not your normal project. We just needed that group that seemed to get it perhaps better than other groups got it. It was just a spark, an energy, an enthusiasm."

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