NWT Tourism Marketing RFP process sees two directors resign

NWT Tourism’s decision to dump Kellett Communications as its Agency of Record prompted the resignations of two directors of the Non-Governmental Organization that manages tourism promotion for the territorial government, but for very different reasons.

Marion Lavigne, who joined the board a year earlier, quit in the middle of her two-year term so that her company, Outcrop Communications, could bid on the lucrative contract. Outcrop had been NWT Tourism’s AOR before losing the contract to Kellett during the previous RFP. Jenni Bruce, a former chair of NWT Tourism, quit in protest over the direction the NGO was taking.

NWT Tourism cut short Kellet’s tenure as AOR – a three-year term with an option for extension – over issues with the company’s handling of the NGO’s website.

The main duty of the AOR is to buy media space for NWT Tourism’s promotion campaigns. The contract pays $40,000, but the position also carries a $100,000 fee to manage the NWT Tourism website.

Bruce said the AOR contract is actually much richer, providing the agency with advertising income from NWT Tourism’s annual travel guide – “enough to support a staff of four people.”

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Kellett’s senior partner, Bill Kellett, declined comment on the loss of the contract or the decision to award it to Outcrop. Lavigne also did not respond to a request for comment.

Legal opinion received

In an interview with EDGEYK.com, Bruce said that at her urging, last May the board sought and received a legal opinion that said it was necessary for Lavigne to resign immediately for Outcrop to be eligible to respond to the RFP. Lavigne stayed on until September.

NWT Tourism executive director Cathie Bolstad made no reference to the legal opinion in an email to EDGEYK.com, but wrote the board and Lavigne were scrupulous in avoiding conflict of interest in the process that selected Outcrop.

In an October 31 email, Bolstad wrote that Lavigne had resigned from the board on September 9, “immediately” after learning from Chairperson Don Morin that the board would look for a new AOR. Bruce resigned at the same meeting.

Bolstad said in the email that the board “was fully briefed on the RFP process.” The briefing included a “detailed account for the process and the results and was clear on all of the steps taken by the RFP selection team to ensure no unfair advantage for any firm.”

Outcrop was chosen by a selection team comprised of Bolstad, Anne Kokko, NWT Tourism marketing director, Janet Dean-Procure of Trek restaurant, and Greg Robertson of Bluefish Services, and approved by the board of directors.

In the October 31 email that named Outcrop as the new agency of record, Bolstad told members the selection team worked “without interference or involvement by board members who were able to make an independent decision.”

Website plagued with problems

The choice of Outcrop was announced on the eve of the NGO’s annual general meeting in Yellowknife. Kellett’s contract ended as it grappled with the re-launch of NWT Tourism’s website, a $300,000-project plagued with problems and complaints.

Issues with the website became apparent last summer and continued through September and October as NWT Tourism pressed Kellett to remedy the situation while it searched for a new AOR.

Bolstad assured members in an email following the September 9  meeting that “we are ensuring this process is carried out in accordance with procurement best practices. I have personally taken steps to ensure that no individual or company has received or will receive preferential treatment.

“My commitment to you is to ensure this process is carried out in a professional, fair, transparent and ethical process, with the ultimate goal of securing the very best Agency of Record for us and for our industry,” Bolstad wrote.

On October 23, Bolstad wrote to assure members that Kellett was working to resolve the website’s ongoing issues, and stated that “we will be transferring the website responsibilities to a new Agency of Record following the completion of our RFP Process.”

Leanne Tait, President and CEO of Tait Communications and Consulting, agreed the contract is worth more than NWT Tourism documents indicate.

“We would like to have it and we worked hard to get it,” Tait told EDGEYK.com. “It’s a big project with a high profile, and I congratulate Marion on winning it. Outcrop is the right company, with experience in tourism.”

Tait also said she was satisfied the selection process was fair and without bias.

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