RESTON, Va. — The RV Industry Association terminated its relationship with Barton-Gilanelli, the public relations agency with forged RVIA’s highly effective media program for more than 21 years.
The change was announced Sept. 30 in a memo to RVIA Public Relations committee members sent by James Ashurst, the association’s vice president of marketing and advertising.
“In follow-up to our discussion at Committee Week about RVIA’s PR efforts moving forward, I wanted to send you a note informing you of our decision not to renew our contract with Barton Gilanelli for fiscal year 2012,” Ashurst wrote.
“At this time, we do not plan to hire a full service PR agency as we will be taking on more direct responsibility for public relations and will manage more of those activities in house,” said Ashurst. “We remain committed to growing and expanding the RV market, and promoting the fun, flexibility and affordability that RVs present for consumers.
“To augment our internal efforts, we plan to work with media relations consultants as needed. We are currently in the process of evaluating several options, and we will keep you informed of our progress throughout,” he added. “We appreciate all of the work Barton Gilanelli has done for RVIA and the RV industry over the years, and we wish Frank, Fran and Jon all the best in the future.”
The move comes as a surprise to many in the RV industry, especially following the success of the RV Centennial celebration in 2010 — an event developed and orchestrated by Barton-Gilanelli. The agency had also worked with hundreds of major media outlets over the years to promote the RVing lifestyle and generate millions of dollars in free publicity for the RV industry and its products.
“The move by RVIA to sever its relationship with Barton Gilanelli seems strange because it comes at a time when economic conditions are increasingly impacting RV sales and would appear that the market will not be improving,” one source told RV Daily Report. “This is a time when the industry needs positive stories to keep RVs top of mind with consumers. Barton Gilanelli excelled at coming up with creative ideas that motivated the media to do those stories.”
Barton-Gilanelli was instrumental in changing public perception of RVing after a disastrous PR problem in the 1980s when RVs were portrayed as gas guzzling and unnecessary, the source noted. The success of the Barton-Gilanelli effort was often considered the envy of the recreation industry for its ability to shape public perception and generate positive media coverage.
The Barton-Gilanelli contract was funded in part with money from the Go RVing committee. There is no word yet as to why that committee voted to withdraw its funding for the agency.