ONDCP Gets Shops on Straight and Narrow

WASHINGTON, D.C. Shops interested in handling the White House’s anti-drug media campaign will compete for an advertising contract worth $130 million and must be large enough to buy $40 million worth of upfront media without any advance payment from the client, according to a “request for quote” issued by the government.

To avoid some of the billing problems it has experienced with its current lead shop, Ogilvy & Mather in New York, the Office of National Drug Control Policy is requiring contenders to be on the U.S. General Services Administration’s schedule of qualified vendors, which means their accounting system has been certified to handle federal government work. More than 200 ad, PR and marketing shops are on the schedule; the most high-profile ad agencies on it include Arnold in Boston, Campbell-Ewald in Warren, Mich., Foote Cone & Belding in New York, J. Walter Thompson in Atlanta, Publicis in New York, and Mullen in Wenham, Mass.

Ogilvy, which paid $1.8 million to settle civil charges that it overbilled the government, is not on the GSA schedule and would have to apply to be on it (a process that takes 90 days) before it could bid. Since Ogilvy’s contract expires Sept. 30 and ONDCP must have a new shop by then, Ogilvy has no time to get on the schedule.

Ogilvy declined comment.

The winning shop will also have to play nice with the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, which coordinates creative on the campaign from a roster of 40 shops. The Partnership has wrestled in the past with Ogilvy and ONDCP over creative control. “Since PDFA will produce the majority (if not all) of the campaign’s advertising, the advertising contractor must develop a relationship with PDFA” and “must enter into a subcontract or some other arrangement with PDFA,” the RFQ says.

The RFQ also details how invoices must be submitted and says ONDCP must “retain authority over ultimate campaign policy and direction.”

The 57-page document specifies that $113.1 million (78 percent) of the campaign’s $145 million overall budget must go to media buys. Shops must prepare a 100-page “written technical proposal” detailing financial and media planning and buying capabilities and demonstrating “their creative ability to target youth and parent audiences for both general market and ethnic audiences.”

The winning shop will do creative for Web ads and some ads that can’t be done by the Partnership, but the duties are mostly management and media buying, not creative, which may give some shops pause. Ogilvy’s troubles also caused concern that the account has become politicized.

Shops deemed “qualified” will make oral presentations the week of Aug. 16.