Senators Join Critics Of ONDCP Program

washington The draft of a Senate bill that would oust Ogilvy & Mather from the White House’s anti-drug media campaign and give the Partnership for a Drug-Free America as much control over strategy as the Office of National Drug Control Policy is the latest sign that lawmakers intend to rein in an effort they feel has run amok, congressional and other sources said.

“This bill reflects a concern about how the program has been managed in the past,” one congressional source said.

The reauthorization bill—expected to be introduced this week—will have to be reconciled with a House version introduced in May that does not address Ogilvy’s role or the amount of creative control allocated to the Partnership. In the Senate, the bill is being sponsored by Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Republicans Charles Grassley of Iowa and Orrin Hatch of Utah.

The lawmakers’ dissatisfaction stems from concern that the campaign has shown mixed results, dismay over the public feuding between ONDCP and the Partnership over creative control, and anger over the White House drug-policy office’s decision to select the New York office of Ogilvy again after settling civil charges over its billing practices. “If you are putting together a campaign where the purpose is to change beliefs, you don’t want someone with questionable morals trying to preach that message,” the source said.

The draft bill calls for hiring an agency that would solely handle the media portion of the campaign; the Partnership would then handle all the creative. Ogilvy handles media and some creative. (Before Ogilvy was hired, during the campaign’s pre-launch phase, Zenith Media handled media.) “The media buying firm shall not provide any service or material, or conduct any function or activity which can be provided by the Partnership,” the draft bill reads.

The Partnership, which coordinates pro bono ads for the campaign contributed by about 40 shops, was unhappy when the ONDCP asked Ogilvy to prepare ads for its drugs-and-terror campaign outside the Partnership’s process. Those ads debuted during last year’s Super Bowl.

Both ONDCP and the Partnership declined comment. Ogilvy referred calls to ONDCP.

The draft bill also calls for all PSAs aired as part of ONDCP’s media match to “directly relate to substance-abuse prevention.” (When ONDCP buys time for an ad, the media company must air another message approved by the campaign for free.) Through a contract managed by the Ad Council, media outlets currently can select from a reel of approved messages that include PSAs for after-school and mentoring programs not directly related to drug prevention.

The Ad Council opposes a change in policy. “The way we look at it, keeping kids off drugs is more than telling them not to do drugs,” said its president, Peggy Conlon. “It’s giving kids and their parents viable programs and something to do so the kids are not hanging out on street corners.”

Some sources familiar with the campaign said the Senate’s draft bill, which also calls for a General Accounting Office audit of the campaign, is a testimony to the Partnership’s lobbying effort. If Congress were to pass a bill that included all the measures in the Senate’s draft, it would be a big victory for the Partnership, which has argued that the campaign, now in its sixth year, should return to its original vision as a public-private partnership.

Partnership president Stephen Pasierb testified at a House reauthorization hearing in March that the campaign veered off-track. “In years three and four, the campaign stopped showing effectiveness,” he said at the time. “Multiple themes were incorporated into the campaign’s advertising, diluting focus. The campaign changed its target audience … to younger teenagers … who predominantly do not use illicit drugs. The campaign’s advertising-approval process grew complex and time-consuming. The majority of the campaign’s match … was no longer dedicated to the effort’s core anti-drug messages.”

Fighting for creative control, the Partnership and ONDCP have blamed each other for the campaign’s mixed results. At press time on Friday, ONDCP continued to lobby Hatch’s office over the bill, sources said. Hatch’s office did not return calls.

Sources said the fighting has hurt the campaign’s financing. For next year’s budget, the Senate has proposed spending $100 million on the effort, while the House has called for $150 million. Even if the campaign receives the higher figure, it will be the lowest spend since the effort began. “There is no empirical formula that proves how much is enough,” noted Rich Hamilton, CEO of Zenith Optimedia Group, Americas, who once worked on the campaign. “As long as the pro bono match is retained, $150 million would still be quite an effective level. And even if it was $100 million, it would still be worth investing in.”

The Partnership has argued that more should be spent on the media buys and less on other efforts, such as public relations and Internet outreach. But some sources argue that ONDCP’s evaluations have shown that awareness of the campaign is high among parents and teenagers, and that the real issue is producing messages that will change behavior. “Spending more is not going to have a different effect unless the message is different,” said one source familiar with the campaign. “And everyone involved is accountable for the advertising.”