Bailey Lauerman, the Omaha-based independent agency perhaps best known for its work promoting Nebraska state tourism, has parted ways with CEO Andy Fletcher after more than four years.
An agency spokesperson confirmed that Fletcher is no longer with Bailey Lauerman but stated today that his departure had nothing to do with recent developments regarding the Nebraska Tourism Commission account and denied an earlier report that the agency’s board of directors voted to remove him from his position this month.
BL was AdAge’s 2013 Small Agency of the Year, and it recently won praise for its “Visit Nebraska. Visit Nice” tourism campaign, which it introduced last year for the Nebraska Tourism Commission. The work was featured in AdFreak, which called it “America’s most humble tourism ads,” and it scored a “best of show” designation at the state’s ADDYs as well.
The account later led to controversy, however.
In May, Nebraska’s auditor of public accounts found that the state and agency had gone $4.4 million over budget from 2012 to 2016. The group claimed that the Nebraska Tourism Commission had “effectively misused taxpayer money” by failing to properly track related expenses and by using its funding to cover items unrelated to the campaign’s production — items like beer, cigarettes, $44,000 for a keynote speaker and $18,000 in moving expenses for one of the Commission’s members.
According to state auditors, Bailey Lauerman also spent several thousand dollars over the same period of time on meals for state tourism director Kathy McKillip and her family members, later expensing that money to the state. McKillip’s daughter was also cast in a social media focused photo shoot tied to the campaign in a move that the audit called “highly questionable”; McKillip stated that she had nothing to do with the decision to cast her daughter.
State auditor Charlie Janssen described the Tourism Commission as “a rogue agency without any oversight,” noting that its spending went unchecked largely due to a 2012 law that made the Commission an independent entity that was not required to report to the larger state government; that law was changed last year, and the audit followed.
When news of the audit went live in May, Governor Pete Ricketts called its findings “appalling,” stating that the parties were “not being good stewards of the taxpayer dollars” and that he would like to place the Commission “under the governor’s purview” in the interest of greater transparency. Around the same time, Bailey Lauerman EVP and general manager Rich Claussen announced that he would be stepping down after more than 30 years with the organization. He’s currently working as an advisor to city planning/advocacy group Prosper Lincoln, and an agency spokesperson told local paper The Omaha World-Herald that his departure had nothing to do with the tourism account.
Later in May, the Commission’s board voted to fire McKillip in a unanimous 8-0 vote.
Fletcher became the agency’s third chief executive in April 2012 as predecessor Jim Lauerman, who had been with the shop for 40 years, stepped aside to become chairman. Fletcher had previously led the marketing and communications department at the University of Florida after serving as CEO of Kansas City’s Barkley.
Sources claim that Bailey Lauerman’s total staff had declined by nearly 50 percent under Fletcher’s leadership. Several Glassdoor reviews allegedly written by current and/or former employees over the past two years also directly called out Fletcher by title, if not by name.
Beyond the Nebraska Tourism Commission, Bailey Lauerman’s client list currently includes Panda Express, Disney, Union Pacific and AMC Theaters, among others.