Before forming social media marketing firm mediafeedia Inc., Peter Buonaiuto struggled to launch local Internet search engines for Hilton Head businesses.
The company stumbled to get out of the starting blocks largely because advertising dollars needed to support the business were being sucked out of the market by the Hilton Head-Island Chamber of Commerce, Buonaiuto claims.
"They're supported by accommodations tax dollars (money paid by tourists who stay in local lodging)each year," he said. "We don't have that benefit as a private company ... and (the chamber) was able to promote their products through many different media channels because of the subsidies they receive. We couldn't compete against that."
Buonaiuto was one of six media companies selling advertising on Hilton Head who gathered Wednesday to discuss how they could work together to even the playing field.
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In all, 35 companies were invited to attend.
The meeting was called by Skip Hoagland, a longtime chamber critic who is suing the chamber to hand over detailed financial information and other records.
Hoagland, president and CEO of Domains New Media LLC, argues the chamber unfairly competes with some of its members by selling ads for chamber publications. He calls its use of taxpayers' money "abusive."
Hoagland proposed Wednesday the media companies form an association to lobby for a more equalized distribution of public and private ad dollars.
"While we are all friendly, fair competitors, we need a voice that supports our businesses as a group, similar to the local Realtors and homebuilders associations," Hoagland said.
Citing dissatisfaction with its use of resources and a lack of accounting transparency, Hoagland tried unsuccessfully in 2011 to launch a new group to rival the chamber.
"This would be different," he said of the new effort. "This would be a small, industry association to specifically talk about what we are up against. There would be no dues and no annual costs."
While they agreed with Hoagland and say the chamber has harmed their business, attendees questioned how effective such an association would be without broader involvement and public interest -- a fact the chamber underscored in its response.
"The nearly nonexistent turnout speaks directly to the media community's faith in Skip Hoagland's efforts," chamber spokeswoman Charlie Clark said. "He has filed suit against the chamber and (we) have no further comment about his personal litigation."
Video: Buonaiuto proposes new association