Boston’s Connelly Partners and Gov. Baker Tell Different Stories After State Drops Agency

By Patrick Coffee 

Here’s a bit of aggregation on a very interesting story coming out of Boston this weekend.

Hometown agency Connelly Partners won the state’s tourism account back in 2008, and MOTT (Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism) expanded its contract in 2012 by awarding it the remainder of the advertising, social media, digital and public relations business.

That all ended last month when Governor Charlie Baker (who took office in January) chose not to renew the state’s relationship with the agency.

It was a bit more complicated than that, though: over the weekend the Boston Herald spoke to agency president Steve Connelly, who said that the governor’s office told him it was ending the contract in order to completely terminate MA’s own efforts to promote local tourism. According to Connelly, the new administration chose to cut the total budget to zero dollars.

Baker’s aides, however, told a different story. They say that they never had any plans to eliminate the office’s $13 million in yearly funding–they just moved the work in-house.

And it gets better: a few months ago, the Boston Herald reported that Baker’s predecessor Deval Patrick had created a “hidden, taxpayer-funded account” worth $27 million to be used in case of recession to pay for “tourism promotion and the governor’s $1.3 million trade mission tab.” Connelly allegedly received $20 million of that money over the course of several years.

Steve Connelly told the Herald that he’d never heard anything about the account, and apparently the current administration wasn’t aware of it either. Connelly did, however, meet with Baker “to talk about the funding from the Patrick administration” before the new governor’s office decided to end the contract.

Baker’s deputy director of policy and PR now says:

“Connelly ceased providing services to MOTT on Sept. 30. Given MOTT staff’s capacity and expertise, it made sense to bring the work Connelly was doing in-house to streamline our marketing work. At this time, there are no plans to hire another firm to replace them.”

Depending on who you ask, this is either a classic case of a reformer rooting out corruption or a governor’s office taking revenue away from a local business in order to save money and/or score points at the opposing party’s expense.

Something is clearly a little off given the fact that the two parties gave very different explanations for the end of their relationship…but it’s a loss however you score it.

(This “Where Should I Watch the Red Sox in Boston” infographic is an example of work created by Connelly in 2013. Amit Gurnani–currently with Publicis Seattle–was a copywriter on the account at the time that he shared the work on BuzzFeed.)

In other Connelly Partners news, the agency did recently announce plans to partner with “gamified advertising startup Dailybreak.” Contrary to local rumors, however, the former did not acquire the latter. They’ve just established what we might call a working relationship.