Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said the county held a...

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said the county held a second bid process to "make certain we were making the right choice." Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau County has dumped the region's tourism promotions agency, instead awarding a contract worth up to $1 million to market the county's attractions to an advertising firm in Glen Head, according to documents obtained by Newsday.  

The decision ends 45 years of unified marketing of the two-county region. At stake is Long Island's $6.6 billion tourism industry, which supports more than 100,000 local jobs.

County Executive Bruce Blakeman's administration wrote to Discover Long Island executives on Dec. 27 informing them that the nonprofit promotions agency,   based in Hauppauge, was an unsuccessful bidder in the selection process for a new contract.

Separately, on Dec. 21, the administration told RRDA LI Inc., a for-profit advertising and marketing firm in Glen Head, that it was the successful bidder, the documents show. 

It was the second competition for the tourism contract in three years.

The administration of Blakeman’s predecessor, Laura Curran, had chosen an Orange County firm, the Niki Jones Agency, over Discover Long Island in August 2021, according to the documents. The agency's founder and CEO, Niki Jones, said on Tuesday that the Nassau contract wasn't completed before Curran left office on Dec. 31, 2021, after losing her re-election bid to Blakeman.  

“Because of the long record of service of Discover Long Island, I felt we should put out another RFP [Request For Proposals] to make certain we were making the right choice," said Blakeman, who has dubbed himself Nassau's chief marketing officer. "The panel reviewing the proposals and companies recommended RRDA to implement the county’s tourism marketing plan.”

He did not participate in the RFP process, said Blakeman spokesman Christopher Boyle.

While the second RFP process was underway, Nassau rolled out a 30-second television commercial in May to lure tourists because Discover Long Island was no longer authorized to work on the county's behalf.

The ad, with the tagline “Nassau County: Golden Coast to Coast,” aired in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arizona, upstate New York and the metropolitan area as well as on Newsmax, the right-wing news channel. It featured Blakeman at the end and was paid for using $600,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funds.

Kristen Reynolds, CEO and president of Discover Long Island, said on Tuesday the agency was "disheartened that Nassau County no longer wants to partner with us.”

She said the county’s decision “sets up a situation where Nassau County and Suffolk County are working against each other — and that’s confusing to the customer who knows Long Island but not necessarily the individual counties.”

Reynolds said Discover Long Island will continue to use the slogan, "Long Island: Where You BeLONG," but going forward, only lodging, eateries and attractions in Suffolk will be promoted. Sites in Nassau will have to pay a fee to be included, she said, adding that the agency has more than 10 million followers of its Facebook, Instagram and other social media channels.

Reynolds acknowledged Nassau officials have complained in the past that Discover Long Island gives more attention to Suffolk, but she said that was because Suffolk's contract is larger. 

The Nassau contract is valued at up to $1 million per year, with the money coming from a portion of the county’s hotel and motel tax. The Blakeman spokesman said on Wednesday no COVID-19 funds would be part of the contract.   

In Suffolk, then-County Executive Steve Bellone extended its contract with Discover Long Island, which now totals up to $6 million per year from the hotel and motel tax. Suffolk raised the levy last year and, at the time, there was a discussion in the County Legislature about whether Discover Long Island was the best vendor.

A spokesman for new Suffolk County Executive Edward Romaine declined to comment.

Discover Long Island, which has 18 employees, is the successor agency to the Long Island Tourism Commission, established in 1978 to promote the two counties as a region with attractions and accommodations worthy of visits by out-of-towners. 

Jaime Hollander, owner of winning bidder RRDA, said the agency would capitalize on her knowledge of area attractions in developing ad campaigns to “attract tourists, businesses and events, offering them a glimpse of the county through bold storytelling, rich media and immersive experiences." 

RRDA, which is based in Hollander's home, plans to have about 40 people work on the Nassau tourism campaign, she said on Wednesday without specifying how many will be full-time employees. She incorporated the agency in 2019 after working in marketing roles at magazine publishers Conde Nast and Meredith Corp. for about 12 years.

Hollander said RRDA has "a focus on tourism marketing and promotions" and plans to use events for Nassau's 125th anniversary "to help market the county and promote tourism." Previously, RRDA has done work for consumer products giants Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble, home furnishings retailer Wayfair and financial services firm American Express, according to the agency's website. 

The Blakeman administration must still negotiate the terms of the contract and they must be approved by the County Legislature, according to officials.

Experts in politics and government said Blakeman's decision will give him more control over Nassau's tourism promotions, and that makes sense given that municipal leaders are increasingly serving as chief cheerleaders for their jurisdictions.

"If you're going to go in this direction, you do want control [of the advertising]," said Michael Dawidziak, a political consultant for both Republicans and Democrats who advised Blakeman on campaigns prior to his running for county executive.

Nassau tourism executives, reluctant to get caught up in the controversy, took a wait-and-see approach.

Adam Karp, manager of the WildPlay amusement park at Jones Beach, praised Discover Long Island, saying, “they’ve been amazing about getting the word out about what we have to offer… We’ve always seen Long Island as one unit.”

Nassau County has dumped the region's tourism promotions agency, instead awarding a contract worth up to $1 million to market the county's attractions to an advertising firm in Glen Head, according to documents obtained by Newsday.  

The decision ends 45 years of unified marketing of the two-county region. At stake is Long Island's $6.6 billion tourism industry, which supports more than 100,000 local jobs.

County Executive Bruce Blakeman's administration wrote to Discover Long Island executives on Dec. 27 informing them that the nonprofit promotions agency,   based in Hauppauge, was an unsuccessful bidder in the selection process for a new contract.

Separately, on Dec. 21, the administration told RRDA LI Inc., a for-profit advertising and marketing firm in Glen Head, that it was the successful bidder, the documents show. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Discover Long Island, the region's tourism promotions agency, has lost the $1 million contract to promote Nassau County attractions.
  • The county, under Democrat Laura Curran and Republican Bruce Blakeman, selected other vendors with the ultimate winner being RRDA LI.The County Legislature still must approve the contract.
  • Nassau's decision ends 45 years of unified marketing of the two-county region.

It was the second competition for the tourism contract in three years.

The administration of Blakeman’s predecessor, Laura Curran, had chosen an Orange County firm, the Niki Jones Agency, over Discover Long Island in August 2021, according to the documents. The agency's founder and CEO, Niki Jones, said on Tuesday that the Nassau contract wasn't completed before Curran left office on Dec. 31, 2021, after losing her re-election bid to Blakeman.  

“Because of the long record of service of Discover Long Island, I felt we should put out another RFP [Request For Proposals] to make certain we were making the right choice," said Blakeman, who has dubbed himself Nassau's chief marketing officer. "The panel reviewing the proposals and companies recommended RRDA to implement the county’s tourism marketing plan.”

Kristen Reynolds, CEO and president of Discover Long Island, said...

Kristen Reynolds, CEO and president of Discover Long Island, said a landscape where "Nassau County and Suffolk County are working against each other" will be confusing to potential visitors.   Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

He did not participate in the RFP process, said Blakeman spokesman Christopher Boyle.

Nassau ad airs

While the second RFP process was underway, Nassau rolled out a 30-second television commercial in May to lure tourists because Discover Long Island was no longer authorized to work on the county's behalf.

The ad, with the tagline “Nassau County: Golden Coast to Coast,” aired in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arizona, upstate New York and the metropolitan area as well as on Newsmax, the right-wing news channel. It featured Blakeman at the end and was paid for using $600,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funds.

Kristen Reynolds, CEO and president of Discover Long Island, said on Tuesday the agency was "disheartened that Nassau County no longer wants to partner with us.”

She said the county’s decision “sets up a situation where Nassau County and Suffolk County are working against each other — and that’s confusing to the customer who knows Long Island but not necessarily the individual counties.”

Reynolds said Discover Long Island will continue to use the slogan, "Long Island: Where You BeLONG," but going forward, only lodging, eateries and attractions in Suffolk will be promoted. Sites in Nassau will have to pay a fee to be included, she said, adding that the agency has more than 10 million followers of its Facebook, Instagram and other social media channels.

Reynolds acknowledged Nassau officials have complained in the past that Discover Long Island gives more attention to Suffolk, but she said that was because Suffolk's contract is larger. 

The Nassau contract is valued at up to $1 million per year, with the money coming from a portion of the county’s hotel and motel tax. The Blakeman spokesman said on Wednesday no COVID-19 funds would be part of the contract.   

Suffolk retains Discover LI

In Suffolk, then-County Executive Steve Bellone extended its contract with Discover Long Island, which now totals up to $6 million per year from the hotel and motel tax. Suffolk raised the levy last year and, at the time, there was a discussion in the County Legislature about whether Discover Long Island was the best vendor.

A spokesman for new Suffolk County Executive Edward Romaine declined to comment.

Discover Long Island, which has 18 employees, is the successor agency to the Long Island Tourism Commission, established in 1978 to promote the two counties as a region with attractions and accommodations worthy of visits by out-of-towners. 

Jaime Hollander, owner of winning bidder RRDA, said the agency would capitalize on her knowledge of area attractions in developing ad campaigns to “attract tourists, businesses and events, offering them a glimpse of the county through bold storytelling, rich media and immersive experiences." 

RRDA, which is based in Hollander's home, plans to have about 40 people work on the Nassau tourism campaign, she said on Wednesday without specifying how many will be full-time employees. She incorporated the agency in 2019 after working in marketing roles at magazine publishers Conde Nast and Meredith Corp. for about 12 years.

Hollander said RRDA has "a focus on tourism marketing and promotions" and plans to use events for Nassau's 125th anniversary "to help market the county and promote tourism." Previously, RRDA has done work for consumer products giants Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble, home furnishings retailer Wayfair and financial services firm American Express, according to the agency's website. 

The Blakeman administration must still negotiate the terms of the contract and they must be approved by the County Legislature, according to officials.

Experts in politics and government said Blakeman's decision will give him more control over Nassau's tourism promotions, and that makes sense given that municipal leaders are increasingly serving as chief cheerleaders for their jurisdictions.

"If you're going to go in this direction, you do want control [of the advertising]," said Michael Dawidziak, a political consultant for both Republicans and Democrats who advised Blakeman on campaigns prior to his running for county executive.

Nassau tourism executives, reluctant to get caught up in the controversy, took a wait-and-see approach.

Adam Karp, manager of the WildPlay amusement park at Jones Beach, praised Discover Long Island, saying, “they’ve been amazing about getting the word out about what we have to offer… We’ve always seen Long Island as one unit.”

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