The Baton Rouge Metro Airport has spent more than $1.6 million over the past four years on advertising and corporate sponsorships of community fundraisers and events including golf tournaments, galas and festivals.
Between January 1, 2015, and November 5, 2018, the airport not only spent its advertising and marketing dollars on print, outdoor and broadcast ads, but also on contributions to such organizations as the Greater Baton Rouge American Italian Association, which received $1,500 a year from 2015-2017 for its Festa Fund; the Louisiana Legislative Women’s Caucus, which got $500 in 2016 for its Scholarship Fundraiser Gala; and the Greater King David Track Club, which received $500 in 2015 for its regional track meet.
How does a $500 donation to the Zachary Charity League Arts Crawl or a $2,500 sponsorship of the Junior League’s Hollydays, both made in 2015, translate into more business for the airport?
Airport spokesman Jim Caldwell says sponsorships are not uncommon with quasi-public facilities such as the airport, which is self-funded, and are a way to target specific demographics and passenger groups that might not be reached by an ad in a magazine or newspaper.
“Events can sometimes provide opportunities to communicate messages, such as BTR’s major economic impact, and its importance to the region’s future growth,” Caldwell says. “Factors such as the airport’s adjacent community and subsequent outreach can also be considered in sponsorships.”
Caldwell says sponsorship request approvals are generally made by a committee of the airport director, assistant director and marketing manager, with the director having the final say.
But Metro Council member Barbara Freiberg says she has questions about how some of the dollars have been spent and will be reviewing the ad and sponsorship expenditures as well as other airport contracts. Freiberg, who led the ultimately unsuccessful push to conduct a national search for a new airport director, met Monday with the local man recently hired for the position, Mike Edwards.
Freiberg says the meeting was productive and positive and she supports Edwards, but she wants to learn more about airport spending, both currently and under Edwards’ predecessors, Ralph Hennessey, who served as interim director in 2017 and early 2018, and Anthony Marino, who led the airport for more than 20 years before retiring at the end of 2016.
Documents provided by the airport to Daily Report show that since the beginning of this year, when the airport hired local ad agency Covalent Logic to handle its ad campaigns and media buys, spending on sponsorships has dropped off, with more of the money going to media buys.
Caldwell says the change represents an intentional shift in strategy that “provides us with opportunities for expanded ad messages and a broader reach.”
He suggests that strategy is working, noting that passenger volume is up 4.3% year to date and was up 4% in 2017.