Dukes County sponsors commercial video promotion

The Dukes County website. — Photo courtesy of Dukes County

Updated July 1, 2011 at 10:15 am.

Dukes County has contracted with a Rochester, New York marketing company to produce a series of video vignettes about Island towns and businesses to appear on the county website, according to a letter on county stationary sent to many local businesses earlier this month.

The company, CGI Communications, uses the official letter from Dukes County manager Russell Smith as an introduction to local business owners.

“The County of Dukes is excited to announce the launch of a new program that we feel will present our Island in a new and informative way,” writes Mr. Smith in the letter. “We have entered into a three-year agreement with CGI Communications to produce a series of streaming online videos highlighting all our county has to offer its residents, visitors, and businesses. These informational videos are produced at no cost to the towns or the county.”

CGI Communications charges a fee to local businesses that appear in the program, according to company executive Meghan Hoffman, and also sells advertising that appears with the video.

“We are going to be filming a series of videos that we’re putting on the county’s official government website,” Ms. Hoffman said in a brief phone conversation Monday. “It is a sponsorship program; there is a fee for the businesses to be featured in the program.”

Ms. Hoffman said she needed to take another call and would call back. She did not call back, or return subsequent phone messages from The Times.

CGI Communications describes itself as the leading online marketing provider in the country.

In a letter reminding one local business of a scheduled meeting with a local representative of CGI Communications, Ms. Hoffman described the venture as a community project.

“She will be coming by to introduce the new community project that Dukes County and the Chamber of Commerce have just launched, geared toward visitors and inbound residents,” Ms. Hoffman wrote in the letter. “We will be featuring a select few businesses from each town and have thus far had an excellent response. We are meeting with Edgartown National Bank, Thorncraft [sic] Inn, Martha’s Vineyard Mortgage, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, Island Realty, Dockside Inn, among others. I know Erica is very eager to present the program to you! As promised, I have attached the letter of support written by County Manager, Russel [sic] Smith, that will futher [sic] explain the program.”

Mark Luce, manager of the Dockside Inn in Oak Bluffs, said the company made an initial contact with him.

“I thought it was a little strange that the county was going to do that,” Mr. Luce said. “Don’t they have enough problems? I didn’t know enough about it, so I didn’t follow through, and they didn’t contact me again. It didn’t sound right for me.”

In a conversation Monday, Mr. Smith described the project as a “freebie for us,” and said he intends to highlight the individuality of each of the Island’s six towns in the videos. He said a videographer came to the Island last week to video the town segments.

Mr. Smith, county commissioner John Alley, and other Island residents were to appear in the videos, according to a copy of a draft CGI script. The draft script begins with an introduction by Mr. Smith: “Welcome, I am Dukes County Manger (sic), Russell Smith. Dukes County comprises of the six towns on the island of Martha’s Vineyard and Elizabeth Islands. The following videos attempt to highlight the interesting histories and unique character of each of the Island towns. Hope you find it informative. Enjoy.”

The script includes promotional voice overs and introductions by county, town and chamber of commerce officials.

Even as the county makes plans to add promotional material to the county web site, it still provides little in the way of up-to-date information for voters and taxpayers on the workings of county government.

A check on Wednesday revealed that the most recent minutes of a county commission meeting posted on line were for the meeting of May 18. The most recent annual report was for 2006.

A recomendation to review and update the county website was among 18 recomendations in a harshly critical review of county finances by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue.

“Moving forward, we recommend the executive assistant, with the support of the county manager, hold quarterly department head meetings to review and discuss the website,” the report’s authors wrote in the September 2010 report. “In this way, the executive assistant can coordinate improvements to maximize her time spent on website related activities.”

This article was updated to reflect a correction. The most recent minutes of the county commission meetings posted on the county website are from the meeting of May 18.