JWT Enlists Ogilvy For Help On ONDCP Bid

Although incumbent Ogilvy & Mather is being forced off the White House’s $130 million anti-drug media campaign, the agency’s presence is still being felt in the review. Senior Ogilvy staffers who work on the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s account assisted sister shop J.Walter Thompson in its bid to win the business, sources said. The two New York shops are part of WPP Group.

JWT and Foote Cone & Belding in New York made oral presentations to ONDCP last week in Parkersburg, W.Va. JWT pitched Monday, when multiple people from Ogilvy were present in the room, sources said. Interpublic Group’s FCB presented Tuesday.

Sources said Ogilvy staffers involved included David McConnaughey, account director for the campaign; senior partner and multicultural planning director Gary Pinheiro; senior partner, management supervisor Mark Amorelli; and partner, management supervisor Vanessa Harmatz.

“This does not pass the smell test,” said former Republican House Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia. Barr, who left office in 2003 after losing his seat, was an outspoken critic of Ogilvy while in Congress and said he intends to ask it to investigate the matter.

Although helping a sister shop win a new account is not unusual in the agency world, the move runs the risk of further alienating lawmakers who wanted Ogilvy removed following concerns that it overbilled the government on the account. Despite Ogilvy paying $1.8 million to settle civil charges in February 2002, it won the account again that July, which infuriated some legislators. In January, two former Ogilvy executives on the account were indicted on charges of fraud. A third has pled guilty.

There is nothing ONDCP can legally do to prevent a bidding agency from including whomever it wants in its presentation. “ONDCP has at every step of the process followed the law,” said ONDCP rep Tom Riley. “This is an important contract, and ONDCP has worked very hard to dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t.’ ” Ogilvy declined comment.

“We have called upon the expertise of a vast number of people with knowledge of this business, including certain members of Ogilvy’s ONDCP team … to provide additional insight to the knowledge, leadership and global resources that exist within the JWT network,” JWT said in a statement.

The controversy and politics surrounding the account also prompted some large Madison Avenue shops to shy away from the business. When ONDCP put the account in review in 2001 due to the billing concerns, more than 50 people from agencies packed the pre-proposal bidders conference. Last month, less than 10 people from a handful of shops showed up.

ONDCP also limited the number of applicants by requiring that contenders be on the U.S. General Services Administration’s schedule of qualified vendors. But some agencies on the list, such as Arnold in Boston; Mullen in Wenham, Mass.; and Publicis in New York, declined to pursue the business. As one agency exec put it, “It was a public lynching of Ogilvy, and the question is, does another agency want to get into that situation?”

The campaign’s budget, now at $145 million—of which $129.6 million will likely be spent on advertising and media buys—also could face further cuts. The House has proposed giving the campaign $120 million for next year. When it began in 1998, it had a budget of $195 million.