Marketers of the in-receivership Olympic Village are paying the editor of well-known local culture webzine VancouverIsAwesome.com to blog about the joys of life in the village – but it does not say on the website that he is being paid to do so.
Rennie Marketing Systems awarded the deal after receiving a single pitch from VancouverIsAwesome.com editor Bob Kronbauer, who says feels like he won a contest to be paid to flog the Village in False Creek – much like the public contests held by Vancouver International Airport and Tourism Richmond to find paid bloggers to promote them.
“I was visiting the Village a lot as a resident of Mount Pleasant before we moved in and fell in love with it and wanted to share the stories of all the positive things that make it great,” Kronbauer said.
“Beyond the budget and all this stuff I really have no idea about as an average citizen, (I wanted) to sort of expose stories about what it's like to actually live there.”
Kronbauer lives in a market rental unit at the $1.1 billion complex, marketed by Rennie Marketing Systems, but declined to disclose his rental rate. He began a $2,475 per-month, six-month contract in May 2012 that was renewed in November. The year-long gig is worth a total $29,700.
“Beyond this, beyond my contract to promote the Village, we'll be staying there in our suite because we love it so much, that was the intention to move there,” Kronbauer said.
VancouverIsAwesome.com reaches its sixth anniversary in February. Kronbauer launched the webzine in February 2007 after returning from five years as a freelance creative director in Los Angeles.
“I explicitly told my wife this is the one thing that we're going to be doing that's never going to make money, don't look at it as a business venture, it's an outlet,” he said. “It's really grown to something I had never imagined that it would. I don't take on contracts anymore because I don't have time to pursue anything else, it has by accident turned into something else.”
Kronbauer calls it a “social venture” and likens it to Huffington Post, which relies on pro bono contributors receiving media profile in exchange for their writing.
“Our mandate is to just tell positive stories about what keeps people here, despite all the bad news stories,” he said.
VIA claims to get 245,000 visits per month from 70,000 unique visitors and is approaching 28,000 Twitter followers. The site is targeted to the 19 to 35 age group.
Village spokeswoman Lesli Boldt said, “Mr. Kronbauer has provided the Village on False Creek with excellent promotional value, with dozens of blog posts, hundreds of thousands of impressions on the #InTheVillage section of the Vancouver is Awesome website, media interviews and ongoing social media promotion to his tens of thousands of followers on Twitter.
“Mr. Kronbauer is on contract with the Village on False Creek to promote life in the Village. Mr. Kronbauer is transparent about this relationship on his blog, Vancouver is Awesome – all of his posts on the Village are branded with the Village on False Creek logo.”
Kronbauer also told BIV that he believed the addition of the logo on the website was adequate to expose the promotional relationship between his blogs and the Village on False Creek.
Vancouver Is Awesome’s promotional agreement was not mentioned in the June 11, 2012 E&Y Village receivership update to B.C. Supreme Court.
“They don't report on every detail and every supplier in each report,” Boldt said. “Only on issues considered to be material to the court, and this contract wasn't considered material.”
Ernst & Young corporate restructuring senior vice-president Kevin Brennan did not respond to interview requests.
Bob Rennie, owner of Rennie Marketing Systems, told Business in Vancouver that the Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Is Awesome and “two or three others” are being used to test print versus online market response.
“As the world tries to convince me that print is dead,” Rennie said, “I will have results after the second quarter of this year and then we will decide whether to allocate more or less marketing dollars to the Vancouver Is Awesomes of the world.”
By late October, 564 of the 737 Village on False Creek units had been sold and Rennie Marketing Systems was projecting sellout by 2014. Vancouver city hall petitioned developer Millennium Southeast False Creek Properties into receivership in November 2010 over a $740 million debt.