Kane County considers contract with highly scrutinized video production company
Kane County officials are poised to embark on a new advertising campaign produced by a company that follows a business model criticized for making overly ambitious promises.
But they may not have to worry about taking a financial risk.
In July, county officials began considering a proposal to pay Florida-based Information Matrix $27,000 to produce three video segments promoting the county. One would be for public television. Another video would be for commercial networks. And a third version would be sent to companies that might like to do business in Kane County.
But after the Daily Herald asked company officials if Information Matrix would refund some or all of the $27,000 if it didn't fulfill promises to produce millions of viewers in every state in the country, the company informed Kane County that "funding had been secured" to do the project at no cost.
"We do many pro-bono projects every year, and we are excited about working with you and your team!" Anthony Davis, executive producer for Information Matrix, wrote in a letter to county board Chairman Chris Lauzen.
When Lauzen pushed the county board to approve the plan during a public meeting in July, it was the public television video that caught most of the attention of board members. Such videos are typically produced to fill gaps between longer programs in a station's schedule.
Board member Deb Allan said she is a big fan of PBS and sees short segments promoting other states all the time.
"It makes you want to visit Wisconsin, visit Maine," she said.
Video production companies contact organizations with offers to create content they promise to be aired on public television stations so frequently that PBS has a warning page about such pitches on its website. It provides links to various news reports dating back to 2008 detailing the various claims made by such production companies.
"While these producers and companies may have content broadcast on public TV or PBS member stations, they do not have a direct relationship with PBS," reads the statement on the website. "An organization should carefully consider working with any producer requiring fees or costs of production and report them to PBS."
PBS produces content for public television stations. It is not a television network. Its governing rules prohibit content paid for by the subjects of the programs. And every local public television station has full control over what it decides to air.
Davis told the Daily Herald that past criticism has unfairly focused on confusion about the company's business relationships and the gripes of a few while ignoring the happy outcomes for hundreds of its other clients.
In email correspondence with the Daily Herald, Information Matrix officials acknowledged there is confusion over how public television and PBS work and what a production company like theirs offers. Such confusion, they said, is the source of any negative attention their business model has received.
Officials said the company has no direct relationship with PBS or any public television station that would give them control over what gets on the air.
The $27,000 in charges in Information Matrix's original pitch to Kane County were labeled as being independent of the video produced for distribution on public television. The material could not otherwise have a chance of being broadcast on PBS, but the issue became entirely moot when Information Matrix decided to offer its services to the county for free.
The company's marketing materials also promise the public television segment "will air in all 50 states" and reach "roughly 60 million households." They pledge the commercial segment will "air 400 times in many of the top 100 direct marketing areas during peak and prime time" on networks like CNN, Fox Business and the Discovery Channel.
Davis and a defamation attorney representing the company acknowledged in a series of email interviews with the Daily Herald that the company can't guarantee the video will air on any public television stations. For the commercial segment, the company buys airtime at bulk rates and uses "long-term relationships" with networks to secure airings.
If Kane County proceeds with the project, Davis said he will make public the airing affidavits from the networks to verify when and where its videos aired on public and commercial television. Those affidavits will support the company's marketing promises, he said.
"We literally have hundreds of satisfied clients," Davis wrote.
Lauzen said he's not concerned with how often, when or where the videos air, especially the video targeting public television audiences.
"Our audience ain't PBS," Lauzen said. "Our audience, my whole career, has been the grass-roots constituents we serve. If (the PBS) part of it was absent, it wouldn't matter. It's very secondary in terms of priorities."
His goal, he said, is to have high-quality videos the county can use to market Kane County as a great place to live, work and raise a family.
"This is not a scam," Lauzen said. "We wouldn't spend (constituents') money unless we'd spend our own money that way."
The full county board will vote on whether to proceed on Tuesday.