Beaufort News

Media members meet to discuss concerns about Hilton Head-Bluffton chamber

A group of local media representatives discussed a partnership and shared their concerns about the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce in a meeting Wednesday on the island.

The meeting was organized by Skip Hoagland, a Hilton Head-based Internet entrepreneur who has assailed the chamber in recent months for what he says are various unethical and illegal practices.

Hoagland had billed it as the first meeting of the "Hilton Head Media Association," but during the nearly two-and-a-half hour gathering, it became apparent the 14 people -- representing different media outlets -- in attendance wanted to change the name to reflect a broader segment of businesses.

A reporter from The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette covered the meeting, but the newspaper didn't participate in the discussion.

Hoagland said he expects to announce the new name next week, adding the group probably will meet again within 30 to 60 days.

He said he hopes the group will eventually join the chamber to make changes from within, as opposed to the external influence he wanted to exert earlier this year through a new, independent association.

The discussion, held at The Sage Room restaurant on the island's southern end, focused on attendees' concernsaboutthe chamber competing with its own members for advertising revenue.

"I thought it was an excellent first meeting," Hoagland said afterward. "Looking at how many people showed up made me feel like what I'm doing is right, and that all the money, time and effort I've put into this is worth it."

"I love the fact that media came together for this," Elizabeth S. Millen, publisher of Hilton Head-based Pink Magazine, said aftr the meeting. "I think there were some walls broken down today, and I hope there will be a next meeting."

Millen, whose business is a member of the chamber, said Hoagland raised valid concerns that she had not considered until Wednesday's meeting.

"If an entity is supposed to be helping businesses grow and it's not helping its own members, that's a problem," she said.

Eric Esquivel, publisher of Hilton Head-based La Isla magazine, said the goal for the new group shouldn't be to compete with the chamber but to help reform it.

"We reached a consensus to work to have proactive changes ... to get separation between the Visitor and Convention Bureau and the chamber for a more level playing field," he said. His business also is a chamber member. "The meeting didn't have to be that long, but people had a lot of things to say."

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