Local officials are right to demand that Creative Outdoor step up.

For some time now it seems we’ve had no escape from advertising — just as those who work in marketing desire. We’re familiar with the traditional methods of enticing buyers, but in recent years in order to get our attention marketers have slapped ads in unusual places, such as the bottom of swimming pools, airline seat tray tables, within the background of video games and even on eggshells.

“We never know where the consumer is going to be at any point in time, so we have to find a way to be everywhere,” Linda Kaplan Thaler, the leader of a New York ad agency, explained to The New York Times in 2007.

The reason for that is the point of advertising: to make money. First in the pecking order is the company doing the advertising. Secondary to them are those who create the ads or provide the space. Yet on occasion third parties benefit.

In Lakeland and around other parts of Polk County, a Tampa advertising company once sought to merge these ideas. Metropolitan Systems installed ad-clad benches in the public right of way along along the community’s transit routes and promised to share some of the revenue with local charities, as designated by local officials.

In recent days, however, The Ledger’s Sara-Megan Walsh has shone a spotlight on this deal — and revealed that the charities have not been getting all they were promised.

Walsh’s story begins with Tom Phillips, executive director of Citrus Connection, Polk County’s public transportation system. Phillips was tasked with reviewing contracts the county and the city of Lakeland had with Metropolitan.

The arrangement was supposed to benefit groups such as the Polk Education Foundation, Girls Inc. of Lakeland, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lakeland and the Explorations V Children’s Museum.

But, as Walsh reported, many of them did not receive their money.

It’s unclear how much they are owed because Metropolitan’s contracts did not specify the ratio of revenue they would receive.

Yet one organization was making money: the Lakeland Junior Chamber, or the Jaycees. They were bringing in $250 a month. This was odd, though, because the local Jaycees are now defunct. The funding they receive is banked in a trust fund managed by the Florida JCl Senate Foundation, the Jaycees’ parent.

Phillips told us that he estimates the other nonprofits are owed $48,000. That’s based on what the Jaycees received and the length of the contracts.

The situation is more complicated now, however, because Creative Outdoor Advertising of America bought Metropolitan a year ago.

Still, whether Phillips is right, or whether the total might be more or less — one factor that could affect it is a dispute over how many benches are involved — the issue is that Metropolitan failed to live up to its obligation.

Thus, Phillips and other local officials are right to demand that Creative Outdoor step up.

The company’s president, David Gray, told Walsh his firm is still trying to make sense of the suspect records Metropolitan kept. He also said his company, in its experience with similar deals elsewhere, provides its nonprofit revenue-sharing partners “hundreds, not thousands” of dollars. He further noted that some groups accept in-kind advertising instead of money.

Sure. But none of that is relevant to the contracts with Lakeland and Polk County. The nonprofits are owed something, and while we understand the amounts weren’t detailed, it doesn’t seem out of line that they would receive the same consideration as the Jaycees.

It was encouraging that Gray told Walsh Creative Outdoor would be willing to work with the affected agencies. “If they feel Metropolitan owes them something, we’ll make good on it,” he said.

For that, Gray deserves kudos, especially since he walked into an old contract he did not negotiate.

But we have to see the outcome before believing the charities have been made whole.

This bench project benefits all involved. We’d hate to see it end. And it seems the only potential obstacle is determining how to make good on Metropolitan’s promises. We trust Gray and his firm will do the right thing.

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