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Merchant complains about video company with city ties

Merchant complains about video company with city ties

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When Brenda Roberts, owner of Baker Street Downtown, paid $2,000 to CGI Communications Inc., she thought she’d be getting a minute-long video advertisement of her business and place on the city of Napa’s website.

Instead, she said, she received nothing except unreturned phone calls, emails and letters.

Roberts said she first learned of the New York-based marketing company last March when she received a postcard from CGI with the city of Napa’s name and logo. The postcard reportedly advertised CGI’s services and said for $6,000 to $7,000, Roberts could have her business featured in a video on, she said.

“It sounded like a good thing,” so she sent them a $2,000 down payment, Roberts said. “They were trying to be progressive.”

The city’s website currently has 10 videos produced by CGI communications. They cover topics including quality of life, economic development, parks and recreation, wine and food in Napa, and others aimed at publicizing what the city has to offer. 

City spokesman Barry Martin said the city has been working with CGI for the past four years but hasn’t paid the company a dime for the “tour book” videos.

“We don’t spend any cash on it,” Martin said. “It’s a barter arrangement. We have (video) content for our site and in return, they are authorized to use our name and logo.”

CGI makes its money through the advertising that surrounds each video, Martin said. The business videos are not on the city’s website, but can easily be accessed by clicking one of the advertisements around the city videos.

When a viewer clicks an advertisement, a separate window pops up with the business’s video, a map of where the establishment is located and contact information.

During the first three years of the city’s contract with CGI, about 20 businesses had videos made, Martin said. He said there was “one particularly dissatisfied client” and one or two others who were not happy with the process.

Last summer, CGI made new videos for the city’s website and more businesses have had videos made, according to Martin. Martin said he has not heard of any problems, other than Roberts’. 

Arbor Guest House on G Street is one of those businesses that used CGI and had a video produced. The video can now be found on Arbor Guest House’s own website and through its logo on the city’s site.

Owner Dan Cocilova said the process was “very smooth” and he was satisfied with the video highlighting his five-room bed and breakfast.

He said a woman came to the inn last June and said she represented the city of Napa. After she explained the video process, he too thought it would be good publicity for his business and paid about $2,300 to have it made and linked to the city’s website.

Though the videographer never showed for the original appointment, CGI compensated Arbor Guest House by making a longer video and by placing its logo next to each of the city’s videos, Cocilova said.

“I have no qualms about them,” he said.

But Roberts maintains her experience was different. In May, after spotty communication with the company, she asked for a refund. Since then, she has had little luck getting anyone from CGI to return her calls, she said.

“It’s a total stonewall, and I've gotten nothing for it,” she said. “They have done nothing.”

On Feb. 1, Martin sent a letter to the company asking it to refund the $2,000, as Roberts had also asked in a letter and phone communications. 

Martin said the city entered into another three-year contract with the company a year ago.

“I have always given (CGI Communications) a positive recommendation, but I don’t see how I can continue to do that with this type of unresolved issue,” he wrote in the letter.

Nicole Rongo, of CGI’s marketing department, said she hadn’t heard about the issues Roberts is having and had not seen any letters. She said it typically takes 12 weeks from the time a business contacts CGI to the time the video is on the web.

Though she typically works with the municipalities and their videos, Rongo said she will make sure the problem is addressed. Whether the $2,000 can be refunded is not up to her, she said.

“I wouldn’t say (a refund is) not possible,” she said. “We’d have to look at the situation. It’s our goal to make everyone happy — the city and businesses as well.”

Because the city does not pay for the videos, Martin said there is little it can do to force the company to refund Roberts’ money. When asked if the city could pull its contract, he said there might be a way but that would hurt those businesses that paid to have their videos linked to the city’s site.

Roberts said she is unsure what to do now. She may consider taking legal action.

“Two thousand dollars is a huge hit,” she said.

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