SCPRT chief: “so gay” ad did not represent South Carolina

Chad Prosser is director of the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism and wrote this column (Anderson Independent Mail) in response to a recent editorial. The Palmetto Scoop is making a ruckus over the incident.

There’s been a lot of discussion recently over whether South Carolina should actively sponsor advertising or promotions directed specifically at the gay travel market. Sparked by a third-party promotion conducted by a tour operator in London, those who would take sides on the issue have sounded off about whether this is a good or bad thing.

As the state’s official tourism marketing arm, it’s the job of the professionals at the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism (SCPRT) to make sure that all visitors and prospective visitors to our state understand that they are welcome here. We also want our visitors to know that we appreciate their leaving behind some of their hard-earned cash to benefit South Carolina’s economy. It saddens me both personally and professionally that any group would perceive otherwise.

It’s important to understand that Amro Worldwide’s “That’s so gay” promotional posters are not state tourism ads. They do not contain South Carolina’s tourism logo, Web site address or photography. We did not place the ads. And we did not pull the ads, because they were not ours to pull. We have no objection to Amro Worldwide conducting this campaign with its own resources. But SCPRT management does object to the state’s money or brand being used in the promotion. Why? Because, as is clearly stated in the proposal prepared by the tour operator’s publicist, “this campaign will ‘reclaim’ the term ‘so gay’ – as a term that is rendered strongly positive for lesbian and gay people. It also allows gay and lesbian people to feel that the term is being neutered as a negative putdown…”

SCPRT does not feel that it is necessary to use sensational content, such as a negative putdown directed at a particular group, in order to market our state to tourists. Furthermore, Amro’s poster about South Carolina contained stock photography and product claims (e.g., “gay beaches”) that are not accurately representative of South Carolina’s tourism product.

SCPRT does not blame the tour operator for this incident. It was reasonable for Amro Worldwide to think that it had the approval of SCPRT through our contract representative in London. In fact, our contractor in London has already paid Amro for the promotion. So why is Amro continuing to carp about our decision? Free publicity perhaps?

To his credit, the employee at SCPRT who initially approved participation in Amro’s promotion, has taken responsibility for his action and resigned in a letter to his supervisor dated July 11, 2008. And, SCPRT’s contractor in London has absorbed the $4,942.50 cost of the Amro promotion. Thus, no state dollars have gone to fund this promotion.

As Director of SCPRT, I take full responsibility for the organizational failure that allowed one employee to approve this third-party promotion without it undergoing the same scrutiny and review that all SCPRT ads undergo. We have made internal changes to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

For those skeptics who imply that the Amro promotion was a strategic decision made by SCPRT at the policy level, I invite them to review all of the documents, correspondence and e-mails made public this week by SCPRT. This paper trail clearly demonstrates that the employee in question acted on his own without the knowledge of even his direct supervisor.

While the facts are not nearly as sensational as all of the speculation, they do demonstrate what actually happened. I hope that the media that have reported otherwise will demonstrate the same level of character as those at SCPRT who have taken responsibility for their actions.