Questions Remain for Ogilvy Following ONDCP Win

WASHINGTON — The White House’s decision to retain Ogilvy & Mather, New York, on its $150 million anti-drug media account will likely increase tensions with lawmakers and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, sources said.

But the win is a big boost for Ogilvy, which has been under fire since the shop became the subject of a federal probe into its billing practices on the account. Ogilvy paid $1.8 million to settle civil charges, but a separate criminal investigation continues.

In fact, ONDCP has built in some safeguards by issuing Ogilvy a one-year contract with four renewal options. “If the Department of Justice brought a criminal case against any ONDCP contractor, then we would be open to taking any appropriate steps at that time,” said ONDCP rep Tom Riley.

“We are delighted to continue to work with ONDCP and be its strategic, research and media partner,” the shop said in a statement.

The Ogilvy win shocked some industry insiders who have closely followed the campaign since ONDCP placed the account in review last August. “More power to them, and they can clear their name,” said one source. “But it is very surprising. In Washington, they don’t want to associate themselves with something that can come back and bite them politically.”

Riley said Ogilvy took significant steps to correct the billing mistakes it had made in the past. “As a result, Ogilvy was not barred from the process,” he said. Still, keeping Ogilvy could prompt even more Congressional scrutiny, sources said. House lawmakers already propose cutting the campaign by $10 million to $170 million and will require that no less than $150 million be spent on the media buys. The Senate may want more drastic cuts, sources said.

The Ogilvy win will not likely improve relations with the Partnership, which has been feuding with ONDCP over who is to blame for a recent study saying the campaign has not reduced drug use among teens.