Six weeks after Republican Haley Barbour defeated Democrat incumbent Ronnie Musgrove in the governor’s race, Barbour’s campaign spokesperson, Quinton Dickerson, opened Frontier Strategies, LLC, an advertising, marketing, and public relations firm on Northtown Drive in Jackson, with partner Josh Gregory, a technical consultant on Barbour’s campaign.
On July 9, the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) officially handed Dickerson the lucrative state marketing contract, valued at a majority of the agency’s $6.4-million advertising campaign.
“The group who helped select Frontier Strategies sought a firm that could clearly demonstrate the ability to achieve greater commerce through tourism growth,” said MDA director Leland Speed. “To meet the challenges within the competitive tourism marketplace, we must be diligent in gaining greater advertising reach.”
Many industry watchers had speculated the contract would be awarded to The Ramey Agency, home of Speed’s nephew, Chris Ray, and the state advertising agency on record from 1992 to 2000 during Republican Gov. Kirk Fordice’s two administrations. In 2000, Greenwood-based Viking Range Corporation acquired The Ramey Agency, a year after its founder, Tommy Ramey, died suddenly at the age of 41. The $30-million-a-year company, which has 54 employees, counts SkyTel and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians among its clients.
GodwinGroup, which held the contract during the Musgrove administration, from 2000 to June 30, and handled the logo design for the name change of the state agency from the Mississippi Department of Community and Economic Development, was also vying for the MDA account. The $60-million-a-year firm, with 90 employees, has a client list that includes Amtrak, Baptist Health Systems, Mississippi Power Company and Trustmark National Bank.
The bid process began in early May. A committee representing various MDA departments made the decision to select the upstart advertising agency.
“All three agencies were good in their own ways, with three very different approaches, and we agreed as a group and felt most comfortable with Frontier’s presentation because of what they could do for our office,” said MDA tourism director Craig Ray.
The tourism division spends roughly $2.4 million per year for media placement, and the agency on record generally makes 15%. Another $200,000 is spent on production, providing the advertising agency revenues totaling approximately $560,000 annually.
Still up for grabs: the state’s economic development marketing contract, valued at more than $1.5 million per year. At one time, The Ramey Agency handled the state tourism account while Mitchum & Company held the economic development contract.
Frontier Strategies brings to the table industry veterans Jim Dollarhide, owner of Dollarhide Film Inc., a broadcast production firm, who produced a “Prince of Tides”-type marketing video for MDA in 2001; Bobby Peede, senior vice president of event planning and management for Event Strategies Inc.; Maggie Clark, a media buyer and owner of Maggie Clark Media Services; and Mississippi State University (MSU) associate research professor Robert McMillen of the Social Science Research Center.
McMillen is perhaps best known for his work as principal investigator of the Mississippi Social Climate Survey of Tobacco Control, funded by A Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, and the National Social Climate Survey of Tobacco Control, funded by the Rural Health, Safety, and Security Institute of the MSU Social Science Research Center.
Also on board: Dave Stepro, graphic designer for Pointe Innovation magazine, published by the Mississippi Technology Alliance, and Natalie Criss, wife of Jack Criss, the former editor of the Delta Business Journal, who joined Brandon-based Community Bank as marketing director when John Arledge resigned to work on Barbour’s staff as director of communications.
“We’re looking forward to Frontier Strategies’ vision and the extensive marketing efforts their team brings to the table,” said Ray. “As a team of Mississippians, we look forward to strengthening our marketing efforts through their broad knowledge and experience of promoting the state.”
Frontier Strategies’ initial task: to immediately begin creating more localized ads and niché marketing efforts, in addition to other advertising and media services.
“Now that we have an agreement with them, we’re going to sit down and dream together, and share our vision and get some new ideas,” said Ray. “One of the things I’ve been preaching from day one is that we’re going to do more regional marketing as a state, rather than just saying, ‘Hey, it’s a great state. Come see it.’ Well, it is a great state, but we’d like to be more specific in our advertising.”
Dickerson, a Mississippi native who earned a political science degree from the University of Kentucky, has been actively involved in Republican politics for the past 12 years. Before working on Barbour’s campaign, Dickerson served as spokesman and communications director for Republican Congressman Chip Pickering, including five years on his staff in Washington, D.C., and for Pickering’s initial campaign in 1996 and his most recent campaign in 2002.
Gregory, who earned a business administration degree from Mississippi College, has extensive experience in interactive political communications. Campaigns & Elections magazine recognized him nationally for creating one of the most effective Web sites of 2002. Gregory’s focus at Frontier Strategies is the design and layout of interactive media and creative advertising including the creation and maintenance of Web sites and Web-based databases.
Dickerson could not be reached for comment for this article by press time.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org.