Derby Mayor Anita Dugatto said Tuesday the city is using taxpayer money to fund a $19,800 infomercial to promote the city and lure potential investors.
The video will be five minutes long and will be part of an infomercial called “Communities of Distinction.”
Just who was footing the bill was a mystery Monday, when the city sent out a press advisory inviting coverage of the production shoot.
“It’s an economic development initiative,” Dugatto said. “I’m trying to market the city. This is what we need to do. We need to really put forth what Derby is all about.”
But, at a Board of Aldermen meeting Sept. 25, Dugatto said the city would search for grant money — not taxpayer dollars — to pay for the video.
At the meeting, Dugatto said the city would apply for a grant from the Valley Community Foundation, a private philanthropic group in Derby, or to Griffin Hospital, which will be one of the organizations highlighted in the video, to pay for the video.
On Tuesday (Oct. 28) Dugatto said the city still plans to apply to the Valley Community Foundation for a grant in order to pay back the $19,800 in taxpayer money that is being spent.
The mayor said the money is coming from the Derby Economic and Community Development Office, which has money in its budget since the director’s position is vacant.
Production on the infomercial started Tuesday in Derby.
The Valley Indy reported Monday that Paul Scott, president and founder of “Communities of Distinction,” ran afoul of the Florida Attorney General in 2007.
His companies at the time voluntarily paid $175,000 to past clients and the state after being accused of violating Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.
The troubles weren’t known to Derby elected officials in September, when they green-lit an agreement with the production company behind “Communities of Distinction.”
Dugatto said she was not familiar with the owner’s checkered history, but said the company has been straight with the city.
“I always knew it was going to be something that we pay for to market our city,” Dugatto said. “It’s a commercial for our city to showcase. I don’t know what the details were for the problems elsewhere, but I didn’t feel like I was duped at all.”
In 2007, Scott, the “Communities of Distinction” honcho, was with the Platinum Television Group, Inc. and New Line Media Solutions, Inc.
Those companies sold $20,000 “magazine style television shows,” which were about 5 to 7 minutes long.
Employees of the companies were accused by the Florida attorney’s general office of indicating the “television shows” were sponsored by big corporations such as Microsoft and Home Depot. As part of the companies’ settlement with Florida, Scott and the companies agreed not to claim they were associated with major cable or broadcast television outlets.
Scott was also sued in 2009 by broadcaster Greg Gumbel. The sportscaster claimed he was “duped” into appearing in infomercials. The lawsuit was settled in 2010.
The roughly $20,000 price tag has been a bone of contention in some other communities approached by “Communities of Distinction.”
Paul Brennan, a writer with IowaWatchdog.com, wrote a scathing column on the company in September, saying municipalities pay $19,800 for “five minutes of low-wattage basic cable glory.”
The column states:
Lots of cities would like to be described on television by a celebrity as a “community of distinction.”
Fewer cities would be willing to make that happen by paying thousands to appear on a very low-rated infomercial produced by a company whose CEO had previously been accused of fraud.
The Valley Indy Tuesday reached out to three members of the Derby Board of Aldermen for comment — Barbara DeGennaro, the board’s president, along with Aldermen Carmen DiCenso and David Lenart.
None were aware the city was using taxpayer money to fund the project.
“We were told we would be applying for grants,” Lenart said.
The Aldermen wouldn’t comment as to whether “Communities of Distinction” should have passed through a tougher vetting process.
“I don’t feel there is an issue,” the mayor said. Dugatto pointed out the roughly $20,000 video will be owned by the city, and will be able to used in other marketing efforts.
Ken Hughes, a former Republican Aldermen, posted a message on the Valley Indy Facebook page saying a previous Derby legislative body rejected a similar initiative.
“We turned this down a few years ago. I suggest they turn it down again. Doesn’t DHS (Derby High School) or another local school have a photography club? Also, what is the ‘new face’ of Derby? I must have missed that one,” Hughes said.
His last comment was in reference to a statement by Dugatto in September saying a goal of the video is to show Derby’s new face.
“Communities of Distinction” is a one-hour infomercial, of which Derby gets five minutes. The company behind it buys time on a variety of broadcast channels to air.
The Derby episode of “Communities of Distinction” will air once on one of the Discovery Channel networks, according to an agreement approved by the Board of Aldermen. It will air 19 times regionally, through a combination of area ABC and FOX television stations, or on the ION broadcast network.
Click here for a previous story.
Sample the infomercials here:
Terry Bradshaw, the legendary football player, introduces each community.
Prior to approving “Communities of Distinction” in September, members of the Derby Board of Aldermen were provided with emails from local leaders outside Connecticut who participated in the productions.
On Sept. 18, Joseph D. Gray, supervisor of Massena, N.Y., said his community had a positive experience with the company. The company had yet to film in Massena when Gray wrote his email, but a contract had been signed and a script had been approved.
“I think it will be difficult to ultimately measure the benefits, but it was something we were willing to try because we had the money to do it, quite frankly,” Gray wrote in the email.
Susan Holecheck, town manager of Pahrump, Nevada, sent an email to Derby City Hall saying she viewed the video as a way to counter negative press.
“I came on board last year and have really tried to find those avenues to ‘put our best foot forward,’” Holecheck said in a Sept. 16 email. “We hired a PR firm and have been aggressive in our marketing efforts.”
The Pahrump town official was looking forward to giving the “Communities of Distinction” video to real estate agents and posting on the Pahrump website, according to her email.
Filming in Pahrump was scheduled for Oct. 15.
Derby is relying on potential investors from outside the area to randomly watch a television infomercial.
At $4,000 a minute for five minutes, couldn’t Derby have found a cheaper way to market the city?
“Have you ever paid for a commercial?” Dugatto asked.
Dugatto said she didn’t have the time or wherewithal to produce a professional-level video. Marketing Derby has been a chief goal of her administration, she said.
The mayor said the company started and finished shooting Tuesday. The video will be edited over the next few months. Dugatto hopes the airing of the infomercial coincides with the launch of the city’s new website, which is scheduled to launch in January or so.
But, to put the one-day, $19,800 video shoot into perspective:
- “The Blair Witch Project,” a feature-length horror movie, was filmed in 1999 for $60,000, according to the Internet Movie Database.
- “Paranormal Activity,” a feature-length horror movie, was filmed in 2007 for $15,000.
- “Pi,” a feature-length psychological thriller, was filmed in 1998 for $60,000.
- “Catfish,” a feature-length documentary, was filmed in 2010 for $30,000.
- “Super Size Me,” a feature-length documentary, was filmed in 2004 for $65,000.
Dugatto said the company toured Derby Tuesday with video cameras and conducted interviews that cut to the heart of Derby.
“I wish everybody could have went with us on that trip today,” she said. “We saw parts of Derby you would be so proud of. The people that were interviewed connected. And there was networking going on. I was interviewed. Matt Conway (Derby schools superintendent) was interviewed. We had Holly Archibald from Yale Community Rowing, Fran and Gary Scarpa (from Center Stage Theatre in Shelton), and Pat Charmel (from Griffin Hospital),” Dugatto said.
The video is a chance to highlight all that is good in Derby, Dugatto said.
“We have so many assets we should be proud of. This is the tool in the toolbox to move Derby forward,” she said.
The City of Derby does not use Facebook or Twitter, the two most popular social media marketing platforms on the planet.
Both services are free.