Looking for a Fix on Anti-Drug Campaign

Drug czar John Walters wants the White House’s anti-drug media campaign to include messages about treatment, a shift in strategy for a 5-year-old program that has focused solely on drug prevention.

At the same time, Congress wants to place restrictions on the campaign to ensure accountability and effectiveness following a year of controversy and scandal surrounding the campaign’s lead agency, Ogilvy & Mather in New York; a power struggle between the Office of National Drug Control Policy and The Partnership for a Drug-Free America over creative direction; and findings that the campaign has not significantly changed teen behavior.

“We have to restore faith in the campaign so the appropriators will put money in,” said Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources at a hearing last week to reauthorize the campaign for 2004.

At the hearing, ONDCP chief of staff Christopher Marston said Walters wants to refocus to support President Bush’s drug strategy focusing on treatment. “The director believes it is crucial to begin to address those youth who are still using drugs on a regular basis,” Marston said.

The Partnership, the nonprofit group that coordinates pro bono creative from a roster of 40 agencies, fears a new direction would make the campaign unfocused and less effective. At the hearing, Partnership president and CEO Stephen Pasierb argued that reauthorizing the current campaign “can help clearly define [it] and insulate the campaign from unneeded pressures while maintaining sufficient flexibility to deal with emerging drugs and drug threats.”

The White House drug policy office and the Partnership also have clashed over who should control creative: ONDCP, the Partnership or Ogilvy, which was hired primarily to buy media but has done some creative work. Congress is considering defining each partner’s role, but details have yet to be worked out.

Ogilvy project director David McConnaughey testified at the hearing that “it is not our goal to do the creative part of the campaign.”

Meanwhile, lawmaker anger lingers over ONDCP’s decision in July to select Ogilvy a second time as lead shop despite a federal probe of its billing practices. At the hearing, lawmakers discussed introducing a provision calling for termination of an agency if billing problems or contract irregularities arise. While Souder said he will not push for Ogilvy’s dismissal, sources said the issue could surface at next month’s reauthorization hearing in the Senate, where lawmaker dissatisfaction with the campaign is higher.

Also discussed at the hearing was whether to specify how much the campaign must spend on media buys. The Partnership lobbied heavily for this last fall, but an amendment requiring ONDCP to spend $150 million this year on media buys died in the appropriations process. The overall budget last year was $180 million; for 2003, Congress cut that number to $150 million.