Why a Florida company is designing the Pure Michigan website

LANSING — The Florida-based company that won a contract to redesign Michigan’s tourism website beat out competing firms, including some based in Michigan, that have worked on other Michigan government websites.

Miles Media LLP’s contract, worth $389,690, was neither the highest nor the lowest bid out of 22 firms vying for the work. The field included 12 companies based in the state, including a sister agency to the firm that currently produces Pure Michigan commercials and another that redesigned the state’s official website.

Crain’s and Bridge Magazine requested contracts and price information from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. through the state’s Freedom of Information Act. The MEDC previously did not disclose the bid amounts.

State tourism leaders said decisions on hiring a vendor are not made based on price alone, but also value — including the level of detail in a company’s proposal and its ability to demonstrate in writing alone that it can do the work requested.

“Nobody should ever think that just because we didn’t choose one of them that our companies can’t do the work,” Dave Lorenz, vice president of Travel Michigan, which manages the state’s tourism efforts, said of Michigan-based firms.

“I will always give more weight to a local company. That’s me, and I’m sure that’s most of our people,” Lorenz said. “But at the end of the day, we have this responsibility to provide the best product possible.”

The selection last month of Sarasota, Fla.-based Miles Media to redesign Michigan.org, the state’s official travel site, raised eyebrows on social media for the apparent irony of choosing an out-of-state company to work on a Pure Michigan branding project.

Travel Michigan wants to update the state tourism website to solve issues related to navigation and content. The project should take 28 weeks to design and build the site; when finished, it will include a new hosting platform and operating system and more user engagement tools, such as trip planning and integrated social media.

Each company that bid estimated price differently, with some including options for additional services or recurring site maintenance, so the bids can’t easily be compared with one another.

Yet price proposals released by the MEDC show a few companies’ bids topped $1 million — though some were multi-year offers:

  • Dearborn-based Campbell Marketing and Communications bid $1.1 million in the first year and more than $341,000 for each of the second and third years.
  • Pleasant Ridge-based Pitch Black Media LLC proposed $2.8 million over three years.
  • Chicago-based Rightpoint Consulting LLC, which has a Novi office, proposed a range from $1.04 million to $1.26 million over three years.

A few companies bid less than $100,000, including:

  • Detroit-based Novocan LLC ($57,000 plus recurring monthly fees for maintenance)
  • Baltimore-based Simple Information Inc. ($44,175 plus additional costs for hosting and project management)
  • Troy-based Integrated Productivity Systems LLC dba IPS Technology Services ($39,500 plus an additional $1,500 monthly fee for web hosting).

Travel Michigan awards contracts using an evaluation committee. In this case, it consisted of marketing staff and industry professionals, Lorenz said, adding that the committee narrowed the field and opened price proposals only from the finalists.

Royal Oak-based Octane Design and Tucson, Ariz.-based Simpleview LLC were the two other finalists on the website project, a Travel Michigan spokeswoman said. Octane bid $260,000, with additional fees for site maintenance. Simpleview bid $738,000 in the first year and $362,000 in recurring costs.

“We are a quasi-governmental organization. There are always going to be pressures put on an organization like ours from constituents (and) others who want us to make a decision because they have friends in the industry,” Lorenz said.

“The reason we go through this process is so that people can’t say down the road, ‘Oh, you picked them because they’re your friends.’”

The contracts show Miles Media was selected over companies that have worked on state projects before. They include the Birmingham office of MRM/McCann, whose sister advertising firm, McCann Erickson, is the agency of record for Travel Michigan and produces Pure Michigan commercials; and Lansing-based Gravity Works Design LLC, which helped redesign Michigan.gov, the state’s official government website.

Miles’s contract includes four annual renewal options worth $141,240 each year for site hosting and maintenance.

Miles works solely with travel marketing and branding and counts state, regional, national and international visitors bureaus and travel agencies as clients.

The company employs about 200 people and has more than $50 million in annual net revenue, with 10 percent growth forecast in the next year, said Doug Luciani, Miles’s vice president of communications and branding.

The firm will hire Brighton-based digital marketing agency TwoSix Digital as a subcontractor. Both companies said the value of the TwoSix subcontract has not yet been decided.

CompanyLocationServicesBid amount
Gravity Works Design LLCLansingWebsite design; graphic design; mobile developmentNot disclosed
Ciesa DesignLansingBranding, logo, corporate identity; design and development; digital media; brochures, publications, print/Web ads$158,110
Reliance Communications LLC/CivicLiveScotts Valley, Calif.Web design, software development with focus on public sector$290,000 + $50,750 annual software service fee + options
corePHP LLCBattle CreekFull-service Web development firm$656,550 for website rebuild + $13,770 for site analysis/optimization + hosting
Velomedia LLC dba Crowd FavoriteRedondo Beach, Calif. (office in Commerce Township)Digital design, development firm$516,950
Simpleview LLCTucson, Ariz.Website development; content management; interactive marketing$738,000 in year 1 + $362,000 recurring
Radish Media LLC dba Radish LabBrooklyn, N.Y.Website development; infographics; mobile apps; interactives; content strategies$301,500
Rightpoint Consulting LLCChicago (Novi office)Agency and technology services firm; digital strategy$1.04 million-$1.26 million for three years
Miles Media LLPSarasota, Fla.Digital, branding, advertising services; content creation; focus on tourism industry$389,690
Integrated Productivity Systems LLC dba IPS Technology ServicesTroyWebsite- and Web-based systems development$39,500 + $18,000 for annual hosting
Novocan LLCDetroitWeb, mobile app, software development$57,000 + monthly fees for server maintenance, SEO, on-call developer
Simple Information Inc.BaltimoreWebsite development; content management$44,175 + 20% for project management + options for hosting
Pitch Black Media LLCPleasant RidgeBranding; website development, management, hosting; content strategy$2.8 million over 3 years
Ameex Technology Corp.Schaumburg, Ill.Website design; content management; business marketing strategies$76,440.50 + up to $17,280 for annual maintenance and support
Icreon Tech Inc.New YorkDigital strategy; software development$403,750
WeUsThem Inc.Halifax, Nova Scotia, CanadaCreative strategies (Web design, branding, mobile apps, advertising)$321,475 + $42,971 for annual maintenance + $1,000 optional monthly retainer
Icon InteractiveAnn ArborDigital marketing; Web development$178,500 + $21,500 in ongoing support costs
Campbell Marketing and CommunicationsDearbornBranding; Web design; marketing$1.1 million in year 1, $341,340 in years 2-3
Octane DesignRoyal OakBranding; Web and interactive; print and editorial$260,000 + $7,000-$25,000 in ongoing site maintenance
MRM/McCannNew York (McCann has office in Birmingham)Brand development; Web, mobile design; analytics and optimization$596,970 for Brightpoint option; price not disclosed for separate Adobe option
Keystone Media LLCAnn ArborInternet marketing; Web design and development$237,225
TrafficTroySEO; Web development and management; creative services$268,750-$396,875 for website build; $6,250-$10,100 for maintenance/hosting

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steve feinman
Thu, 03/17/2016 - 11:03am
It appears that the rfp documents were poorly framed with frangible requirements, loosely defined product, and multiple pricing bases. The rfp should have provided one set of objective requirements, products and pricing so that the bidders did not have to invent a general solution. In addition, this bid could have been restricted to Michigan companies. But, this of course not the first time pure Michigan sacrificed Michigan jobs and tax revenue for products. They sent their printing out of state. In sum the speak and act with a forked tongue and try to cover it up with platitudes.
Thu, 03/17/2016 - 12:54pm
I agree Steve. The RFP is the most important part of the process because it should contain the information and format for bidding. The range of bids and the difference in the language on the bid tells me there was not a clear objective RFP. This is management 101, so I wonder how seriously this process was taken.
Robert S
Sat, 03/19/2016 - 10:02am
Poorly written RFP's give the selection committee a lot of wiggle room in making the final decision. So maybe it was poorly written on purpose.
Mon, 03/21/2016 - 2:12pm
Steve, Those are good insights. I do not think the state should get its printing done out-of-state. Thanks, Dave Baker
Thu, 03/17/2016 - 12:34pm
Government contracting is a very complicated business to find the best value and most talent for the price. Maybe the point that the company selected-- "focus is the tourism industry" gave them a huge advantage! Does it make sense select a cheap bid from someone who doesn't have a clue about marketing to the tourism customer. Oh, yes...everyone is an expert in everything right? Commerical printing is a commodity-so you need to go with the low bid regardless of where the company is located. Shipping is always a big cost, so that is an extra disadvantage for companies that are far away. If Michgian companies want to be considered for printing, they need to invest in the technology that allows for inexpensive printing and mailing.
Thu, 03/17/2016 - 1:23pm
Someone told me that "Pure Michigan" was dead after the Flint water fiasco? Guess not. I'm sure many larger items for State procurement go to out-of-state firms, although the irony here gets one's attention. A bigger picture of state in- and out-flows would be interesting. It does look like the RFP could have been better, and adding a Michigan requirement would have been reasonable, although I have issue with "outsourcing".. There are plenty of talented firms here in Michigan.
Thu, 03/17/2016 - 1:28pm
What you need to look at is the relationship of Governor Snyder's chief of staff who is from Florida and still essentially lives there and this vendor from Florida. The Snyder administration seldom follows state procurement law and like the large no bid furniture contract to Snyder's cousins furniture company which was reported on, it is naive to assume that there was not some sort of undue influence from the governor's office or campaign contribution to Snyder from the vendor. A very corrupt administration...
Thu, 03/17/2016 - 1:36pm
Gosh. The comments are once again better than the Bridge article. This seems to happen more often than not - awards or no awards.
Leslie Watson
Thu, 03/17/2016 - 1:42pm
This company offered services that targeted tourism customers specifically. It seems there is a need to have a marketing strategy to build desire to come to Michigan. There is so much more for families to see and enjoy than the casinos in the Detroit area.
Thu, 03/17/2016 - 4:18pm
Like Fred I thought Pure Michigan was dead. Not after the Flint fiasco but after our legislature and governor let the world know that we had a highway system comparable to third world countries. The legislature, governor, and pro gas tax road contractors blasted the airways with the dire deterioration of Michigan's highway system. Now we are hiring a firm to promote Michigan ? Why not just use the same add with the governor holding up a piece of concrete from one of our bridges and play it around the nation again ? Pure Michign at it's best !
Thu, 03/17/2016 - 10:26pm
I teach high school web design classes and these costs are astronomically high for making some web sites and hosting! Also the wide range of bid costs meant the process must have been confusing or too wide open. We have many talented web designers in the Michigan creative community and we certainly could have done as good or better of a job using our own Michigan talent rather than hiring a Florida company. Does Florida hire any Michigan companies to run its tourism web sites? I am guessing there is much more to this story and some connections that have not been publicized.