What does a communications consultant mean for Myrtle Beach?

- The Sun News file photo
- The Sun News file photo jbell@thesunnews.com

The City of Myrtle Beach is eying a communications consultant — someone who can work with city staff to create a plan on how the government communicates internally, on social media and with residents and tourists.

According to a request for proposal on the city's website, the consultant will have a 90-day contract and focus on three main topics. The consultant will develop a plan for city staff to implement.

Generally, one of objectives is to "improve communications with residents and guests alike," and "develop a metric to evaluate how messages are perceived by the end-user and analyze the results of communication efforts," the RFP reads.

Internally, the consultant will work to improve communications and outline any additional training staff needs and identify potential opportunities.

The final section the city identified in the RFP was situational. Here, the consultant will "communicate more clearly and rapidly, especially during emerging situations," "develop strategies to more effectively respond to negative social media attacks," and "develop protocol to stay ahead of social media."

Last year, there were two instances where videos from the Myrtle Beach area went viral on the internet — a shooting on Ocean Boulevard that left several people injured and a video of a Myrtle Beach police officer asking a homeless man to leave an area McDonald's.

Both videos reached millions of viewers and received various comments from viewers.

Another "threat" the city has faced is various Facebook groups. During a city council retreat in January, members cited the group Myrtle Beach Horror Stories, which recently changed its name to Myrtle Beach Rising.

"I don’t care if you live in city limits, have a business in city limits or outside of city limits, our industry is based on tourism, and every business, every person who is in our county benefits from our tourism," Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune said during the retreat. "And if people are out there trying to sell Myrtle Beach as a negative, as a bad thing, that hurts us all and that’s where we have to have something to combat that with.

"I would love to say that social media doesn’t play a huge role in that, but it does. The fact is that it does."

However, for Myrtle Beach Councilwoman Mary Jeffcoat, the point of the consultant is to take a broader look at how the city communicates, rather than focusing on certain events.

"I just think those were blips in the radar," Jeffcoat said.

How would a communications consultant work?

By putting out an RFP, the city will receive applications from interested companies. In the application, an estimated cost for services will be provided as well as how often and from where a consultant would work.

"Think of it as if you would hire an accountant to come in and do an audit," Jeffcoat said. "This is not a paid position. There are companies all over the country that do this kind of work, they’re called communications consultants.

"This is a city council initiative to engage a consultant to look at all the ways we communicate and help us do what we’re doing well better and maybe give us some suggestions of some additional things we could be doing. So it’s not a social media position, it’s not a full-time position, and it is not my initiative. It is a directive from city council to staff."

The RFP was released on March 8 and proposals are due by April 11. After that, recommendations must go through City Manager John Pedersen and city council. The 90-day contract will begin on May 24.

"We’re just trying to be very proactive moving forward," Bethune said. "Social media trends change so rapidly and we do realize that you have to stay ten steps ahead of it. We just want to ensure that should something, be it good or bad, happen publicly that we are up to date and on point as far as how we address it."

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