Town officials criticize airport ad plan
A proposal to sell advertising space at the Martha's Vineyard Airport to target Martha's Vineyard's affluent air travelers will not fly with the selectmen of West Tisbury and Aquinnah.
The selectmen in each town wrote the Martha's Vineyard Airport Commission opposing a proposal from a Connecticut-based company to sell advertising space in and around the terminal.
Representatives of Luxury Media Partners (LMP) presented the advertising proposal at a meeting of the airport commission on September 3. Advertising industry veterans Brian Pussilano and James Joyella told the airport commission their company had created a successful marketing model designed to attract luxury brand advertisers, and they wanted to enlist the Vineyard.
LMP presented their proposal in the form of a 16-page handout to a receptive Vineyard airport commission interested in generating outside sources of revenue to counteract rising costs.
Mr. Pussilano said LMP would only solicit luxury brands that are acceptable to the airport. Advertising would be placed on small back-lit boards facing the tarmac and visible only to arriving passengers. Video displays would be placed inside the terminal. The company estimates first-year revenue would be between $100,000 and $200,000.
Mr. Pussilano told the commissioners the Vineyard attracts travelers with unique demographic, consumption, and lifestyle attributes that are attractive to luxury sponsors. He said this target audience consumes media in ways that differ from the ways of average folk and would respond well to the type of subtle and tasteful luxury brand message his company expects to provide.
The company currently has a contract with East Hampton Airport in New York and has approached the Nantucket Airport commission with a similar proposal.
The county-appointed, five-member airport commission is responsible for the care and custody of the county-owned airport.
At the September meeting, John Alley of West Tisbury, long-time airport commissioner and county commissioner, said the marketing plan is "a great idea and something that is overdue."
West Tisbury selectmen had a very different reaction. They said they are opposed to any advertising, and the airport terminal, which is located in West Tisbury, is subject to town zoning regulations governing signs.
Jennifer Rand, West Tisbury executive secretary, said selectmen knew nothing about the advertising proposal until a story appeared in the September 11 issue of the Martha's Vineyard Times ("Airport may allow upscale terminal ads").
After selectman Jeffrey "Skipper" Manter read the story, he raised the issue for discussion, said Ms. Rand. The selectmen voted unanimously to oppose the proposal and asked to meet with the airport commissioners on October 15.
In a letter dated September 24, addressed to the airport commission chairman, the board said it does not endorse renting space to Luxury Media Partners. "The Island of Martha's Vineyard should not be branded as an elite destination, suitable only for the very rich," said the board. "Moreover, our airport should stand apart and reflect the character of Martha's Vineyard; you should feel as if you have come to Martha's Vineyard, not New York or Los Angeles, when you walk into the terminal."
The letter from the selectmen included a copy of the town's sign bylaws and a request to be placed on the airport commission agenda.
In a similar letter, dated September 23, Aquinnah selectmen said they are opposed "to any and all proposals that would seek to initiate the development of electronic display advertising at the Martha's Vineyard Airport."
The selectmen said that display advertisements at the airport would seriously compromise the Vineyard's unique aesthetics.
In a telephone conversation with The Martha's Vineyard Times last week, West Tisbury selectman Richard Knabel said the proposal caught him totally by surprise. The airport commissioners would have been wise to speak to the selectmen and the appropriate town boards first, he said, adding that he had heard from several town residents who questioned why the airport was even considering the proposal.
Mr. Knabel said he does not approve of the general concept of attracting luxury advertisers. "I think it reinforces the notion that this is a rich person's playpen," he said. "It kind of makes this place more like a lot of other places, and one of the things I thought we prided ourselves on is that we weren't like everywhere else."