ONDCP Review’s Cost and Effect

WASHINGTON–The winner of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy’s anti-drug account will earn less money than the $160.3 million Ogilvy & Mather is budgeted to receive this year, sources said.

What’s more, whoever wins will encounter the same intense political scrutiny that New York shop Ogilvy faced when working on the high-profile government account.

The cost of rebidding Ogilvy’s contract will be “in the millions,” said one source. That money will be deducted from the amount a shop receives under a new one-year contract with four renewal options. The final figure may be less than $150 million, sources said.

Large shops and media buying agencies with federal government experience are expected to pursue the business. Those who have ex pressed interest, said sources, are Bates, D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Grey, Foote, Cone & Belding, McCann-Erickson, Saatchi & Saatchi, Young & Rubicam and Zenith Media, all New York; Ini tiative Media, Los Angeles; and Leo Burnett, Chicago. Shops can partner with media companies, and agencies with tobacco clients will not be disqualified, sources said.

Ogilvy, the subject of a Department of Justice probe over its billing practices on the account, defended its work last week. “While we recognize that intense pressure brought by Congress has caused ONDCP to rebid the contract, we are proud that our work has saved lives,” it said in a statement.

“This was a decision having to do with public perceptions of wrongdoing, whether real or imagined,” said Alan Levitt, ONDCP’s program manager for the media campaign.

Despite the decision, Rep. Bob Barr, R-Georgia, sent a second letter last week to President Bush, urging him to cancel Ogilvy’s contract immediately. “Ogilvy & Mather should not receive one more dime of taxpayer money,” the letter said.

One source said Ogilvy’s experience could give some shops pause. “Ogilvy is very, very highly regarded in this industry,” the source said. “What would happen to us if maybe our … financial controls are not as good?”