South Carolina tourism director speaks up for gay tube adverts

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Amid the row about adverts in London promoting South Carolina as a gay destination, the head of the state’s tourism agency said yesterday he wanted the campaign to continue because of public relations concerns.

“South Carolina is so gay,” proclaimed posters in one Tube station.

The campaign was proposed by the state tourism agency’s London advertising contractor.

It promotes tour operation Amro Worldwide. Several US cities took out similar ads to coincide with last month’s Pride London celebrations.

Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism Director Chad Prosser said the agency had no authority to ask the ads be taken down anyway, since the contract was through a third-party British vendor.

“There was nothing that could be done to pull it. The campaign was going to end before that whole chain of events could take place,” said Prosser.

The state’s Governor Mark Sanford and others objected to the ad content calling the state “So Gay,” arguing state tourism dollars were being used to make a political statement.

After the ad campaign became news in South Carolina – a week after Prosser found out about it – he announced the state would not pay the vendor.

This prompted the South Carolina Pride Movement to raise the £2,500 necessary to pay the debt owed.

They will also launch their own campaign using a “South Carolina WILL BE ‘So gay'” from the SC Pride website.

Prosser said he did not ask the ads be removed for three reasons: concerns the advertising and tour companies would use it for free publicity; the agency could not remove the ads; and the campaign had nearly run its course, coinciding with last month’s gay Pride events in London.

“It shows we made the right decision,” Prosser said of press releases criticising the state by Amro Worldwide, the tour company, and Out Now Consulting, the advertising firm, according to

“They’ve gotten a tremendous amount of free publicity at South Carolina’s expense.”

Ian Johnson, chief executive of Out Now, said the two companies only got involved to correct what they felt were untruths by Prosser and the agency.

“I just find it really strange that the South Carolina Parks Recreation & Tourism think they are somehow doing their state’s industry a favour by creating so much negative publicity for their local tourism industry.

“In 2008, homophobia is just not a smart tourism marketing strategy, if it ever was. Shambolic probably does not go far enough in describing their ineptitude,” said Johnson.

Andrew Roberts, CEO of Amro Worldwide, noted the state willingly violated a contract.

Both were disappointed PRT initially tried to blame a “low-level” employee.

Rand Romaine, the employee who approved the campaign, was an agency international marketing manager. Prosser said they were trying to protect Romaine’s identity, and should not have used the “low-level” modifier.

Romaine has since resigned.

According to e-mails released by the agency, Parks Recreation & Tourism employees were surprised to learn that posters advertising South Carolina as a gay destination had been displayed in London subway stations.

The e-mails verify the agency’s claim that a lone employee approved the ad campaign without a supervisor’s approval.

Prosser told South Carolina newspaper The State on July 10 that Parks Recreation & Tourism had asked the ads be removed.

The July Fourth holiday and Romaine’s vacation, Prosser said, made it difficult to piece details together initially.

The e-mails show agency officials were hoping the ad campaign would not become an issue in South Carolina. The agency’s spokesman wrote on July 3 he was “praying this little story doesn’t jump the pond.”

That same day, Romaine e-mailed agency officials and the British vendor, recommending they pull the ads. “I made a serious error in judgment regarding the political sensitivities surrounding the marketing opportunities with AMRO Vacations and the London campaign,” Romaine wrote.

Prosser said the agency has changed its policies for approving international advertising. Nonetheless, a number of lawmakers said they were disappointed in the lack of oversight.

“The ads’ content certainly don’t represent the public policy of the state,” ” said Republican state Representative Greg Delleny.