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CDC Embarks on Youth Initiative

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has approached agencies about a new assignment that targets preteens. The goal is to prevent high-risk behavior, including smoking and drugs, the CDC confirmed. Billings are estimated at more than $100 million.

Dubbed the youth media campaign, the initiative is mandated by Congress and will launch in 2001, a CDC official said. It is the first time the CDC has embarked on a paid media effort.

The Atlanta-based federal agency is reaching out through its public relations shop, Porter Novelli in Washington, D.C., sources said. Por-ter Novelli, which is owned by Omnicom Group, would work with the winning shop. As such, it is "under a lot of pressure to use an Omnicom agency," a source said. But non-Omnicom shops have also been approached, sources said.

Agencies with experience marketing to kids have met recently with Porter Novelli executives to check chemistry and credentials. The meetings are believed to be exploratory; the purpose is to draw up a long list of qualified candidates. The assignment encompasses both creative and media duties.

The initiative is being steered by a unit of the CDC known as the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

Though the program hinges on federal funding that won't be finalized until October, Congress believes media is an effective tool to reach this age group, the CDC official said.

Past CDC ad efforts have covered a range of issues, from smoking and drugs to preventing skin cancer and sexually transmitted diseases.