ONDCP May Face Protests From Losing Contenders

As opposition in Congress mounts to the White House’s decision to retain Ogilvy & Mather on its anti-drug media campaign, at least one of the losing contenders is considering filing a protest.

“We are trying to find out what is involved, what are the legalities and how to do this,” said one executive.

The protest will likely be filed after the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy debriefs the losing bidders this week about how the decision was reached, sources said.

Sources said Bates is considering filing a protest, but will not make a final decision until after the debriefing. The New York shop, with Zenith Media, were the ONDCP’s first agencies when the account was created in 1998. Bates could not be reached.

Rich Hamilton, CEO of Zenith Media, Americas, would not say if his shop would file a protest. “This contract award is a huge disappointment,” he said. “We will learn more about the reasons for the outcome.”

Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, said it will attend the debriefing. Foote, Cone & Belding and McCann-Erickson, both New York, declined comment. Ogilvy, under investigation for possible criminal violations on the account, also declined comment.

Under federal rules, written protests must be filed by losing shops to the U.S. Navy, which oversees the campaign and made the decision, with ONDCP input, to retain Ogilvy. Shops can request an independent review above the contracting officer’s level. The Navy has 35 days to respond.

Meanwhile, Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., who chairs a House subcommittee on criminal justice, last week sent the Navy a letter asking for all documents relating to the award decision. Souder’s subcommittee is also contacting the losing agencies to get their reactions. Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., last week sent one letter to Souder calling for an immediate hearing. Barr sent a second letter last week to drug czar John Walters, asking him to “publically disavow” the decision and ask the Navy to award the contract to another bidding agency.

The Senate proposed last week to cut the campaign to $100 million from its current $180 million.