Tony Serna, Vice-President of Agency 51, a Santa Ana advertising firm that has been a hidden force behind Anaheim First.
By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher
Much has been written about Anaheim First, the faux grassroots organization which, according to legal documents filed with the California Secretary of State in 2019, is controlled by Todd Ament, President and CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce. But very little, if anything, has been said about another entity that has been a hidden force behind it.
If you have ever seen Anaheim First’s full page ads in a newspaper, a slick mailer inviting you to attend one of their town hall forums, or observed members wearing those proverbial blue shirts, you saw the handiwork of Agency 51, an advertising firm located in downtown Santa Ana, literally a block away from the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and Courthouse.
Contrary to what is publicly known, Anaheim First made its debut, at least unofficially, on August 3, 2017 when Tony Serna, Vice-President of Agency 51, registered the domain “AnaheimFirst.com” using his name and his firm’s Santa Ana business address, email, and phone number. Records show this domain was later transferred to Visit Anaheim in 2018.
Message posted to Agency 51’s Facebook page.
But Serna does more than just run Agency 51. Not only was he a founding member of the Anaheim First Advisory Council in District 6, but he sits on the Board of Directors of the Anaheim Chamber. According to IRS Form 990 filings compiled by ProPublica, a non-partisan investigative journalism website, Serna has served on the latter body at least since 2013.
On its LinkedIn page, Agency 51 describes itself as a “full-service integrated marketing communications agency with offices in Orange County, CA, specializing in implementing complex, strategic advertising programs.” Founded as a partnership in 2001, it has two offices nationwide: one in Santa Ana and another in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Anaheim First is not the only major project Agency 51 has been involved with. It has an impressive list of past and present clients, including Comcast, Cox Communications, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel, House of Blues Anaheim, and the Muzeo Museum and Cultural Center. Furthermore, the firm has done some work for the Anaheim Family YMCA.
Agency 51 boasting about Anaheim First on its website.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Anaheim First was reinvented as a marketing tool to help local restaurants, microbreweries, wine bars, and other businesses survive the economic downturn. For months, residents have seen ads on social media sites, much like the one on Agency 51’s YouTube page, offering discounts for food, drink, and other items.
However, as more people get vaccinated and life returns back to “normal,” it will undoubtedly revert to its original form. At the March 23rd meeting of the Anaheim City Council, Mayor Harry Sidhu reaffirmed his commitment to the Chamber-backed group. He is up for re-election next year. Given Anaheim First is stacked with his allies, he’ll need all the support he can get.