Zimmerman Allegedly Pushed to Expand No-Bid Contract with Broward Health After Client CEO’s Suicide

By Patrick Coffee Comment

Yesterday the independent Fort Lauderdale news site Florida Bulldog ran a very interesting story on the intersection of advertising, healthcare and politics in the Sunshine State.

The players involved are Broward Health Center, County Commissioner and former Broward Republican Party Chairman Chip LaMarca, Governor Rick Scott, and Zimmerman Advertising.

In summary, Bulldog reports that Zimmerman and LaMarca–who currently serves as the agency’s director of community relations in addition to his job in politics–urged the client org to expand and finalize a $70 million-plus no-bid contract with Zimmerman while staffers mourned the suicide of its CEO, who had negotiated the initial deal.

Bulldog raises the issue of Zimmerman reps pressing Broward to complete the contract even on the day of a memorial service for its chief executive.

Broward is a public organization run by the county government, and its president and CEO Dr. Nabil El Sanadi was negotiating the details of the no-bid deal when he killed himself in January. His suicide came less than two weeks after he underwent heart bypass surgery and several months after the Broward Health organization agreed to pay the federal government nearly $70MM to settle a years-long investigation into a pattern of Medicaid and Medicare fraud.

Broward officially picked the Omnicom shop as its AOR last May, when El Sanadi wrote, “We knew Zimmerman was the clear choice.” But these contracts take time to finalize…just ask Y&R and the U.S. Navy. As reported in February by the Miami Herald, his death delayed completion of the Zimmerman deal, which was worth an estimated $71.4MM to be paid by the county, aka the taxpayers. From that report:

“El Sanadi pushed the deal despite a warning in December from Broward Health’s chief financial officer, Robert K. Martin, that the proposed agreement with Fort Lauderdale’s Zimmerman Advertising was based on erroneous statistics.

While Zimmerman estimated its multimillion-dollar ad campaign would generate revenue as much as $4 for every dollar spent, Martin said the real figure was a loss of 10 cents on a dollar spent.”

El Sanadi “shrugged off” Martin’s concerns and later fired him. Two members of Broward’s 7-person board also voted against working with Zimmerman, with one calling the then-nonexistent contract “very expensive advertising.”

It’s not clear how Zimmerman initially scored the Broward win because no records exist, but yesterday’s Bulldog story explores whether LaMarca, who is not registered as a lobbyist and is therefore not allowed to lobby government organizations on behalf of Zimmerman or any other business interest, did just that. He told Bulldog, “these allegations are categorically untrue.”

Jordan Zimmerman himself wrote:

“At no time did Zimmerman Advertising pressure any staff member of Broward Health to complete a pending advertising contract after Dr. El Sanadi’s death.”

Bulldog implies that LaMarca’s emails to Broward Health prove otherwise. The client’s IT chief Doris Peek, who was put in charge of negotiating the contract after El Sanadi’s death, wrote an email to the org’s acting CEO the day after the funeral:

“Am I to assume you have spoken to the board member whose name is being used by Zimmerman to press us to move forward? … This ‘hearsay’ and ‘third party’ interference is wearing all of us down.”

Bulldog stops short of stating that the board member in question was David DiPetro, a chairman personally appointed by Governor Rick Scott. Scott suspended DiPetro and another board member last week after his own inspector general expressed “grave concerns” about their alleged interference with the same federal fraud investigation mentioned above. DiPetro then filed suit, arguing that Scott didn’t accuse him of anything specific and that the governor didn’t have the authority to suspend him in the first place.

Regarding Broward, LaMarca said that, because he is a “liason,” the rules regulating lobbyists shouldn’t apply to him. He did, however, confirm that he discussed the org’s marketing plans with El Sanadi. Zimmerman and the late CEO sought to expand their contract beyond the initial $71.4MM total, and the commission was supposed to vote on El Sanadi’s revised agreement when he killed himself. According to Peek, the organization’s leadership then asked Zimmerman to agree to a contract which tied compensation to performance…and they refused. She wrote, “The problem is z refuses to go at risk with the retainer,” but Zimmerman told Bulldog that it never happened.

Finally, emails indicate that a Zimmerman account supervisor and its SVP Bert Sutcliffe pushed Broward Health to approve a new TV campaign last month despite the organization’s insistence that the agency suspend all related “production and distribution of media channels” following El Sanadi’s death. The expanded contract had yet to be approved at the time, and it currently remains on hold.

To clarify, neither Zimmerman nor the current leadership of Broward Health have been accused by any regulatory organization of doing anything illegal or unethical in arranging and negotiating this contract.

The agency has been working on the business throughout and continues to do so based on its initial agreement with El Sanadi. A Zimmerman spokesperson tells us today:

“We are contracted to do their advertising. That’s it. In fact, our campaign just launched a few months ago and we are looking forward to it helping the company grow. We always push for results, nothing else.”

More than anything else, this story illustrates the complexities of doing business with a publicly owned and funded entity.