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Census Turns to DraftFCB for $250 Million Account

Y&R, Ogilvy and GSD&M Also Chased Prized Government Contract

By Published on .

A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.

WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- The U.S. Census Bureau has tapped Interpublic Group of Cos.' DraftFCB to handle advertising behind the 2010 Census, awarding the agency's New York office a $250 million to $300 million government account.
The Census Bureau account has been a sought-after business since the government switched from public service to paid advertising in 2000.
The Census Bureau account has been a sought-after business since the government switched from public service to paid advertising in 2000.

DraftFCB, heading an extensive team that includes agencies targeted to African, Asian, Hispanic and Native Americans, competed against WPP Group's Y&R, which handled the 2000 census, and sibling Ogilvy & Mather. Omnicom Group's GSD&M, Austin, Texas, was also a finalist.

Neither Draft nor the Census bureau could confirm the size of the census contract, technically a 13-month account renewable each of the next three years.

Sought-after business
The Census Bureau account has been a sought-after business since the government switched from public service to paid advertising in 2000. The strategy switch paid off, helping to boost participation rates.

In 2000, 67% of households their filled in their forms, up from 65% in 1990. Sending out enumerators block by block to track down missing census data costs the government $75 million for each percentage point return rates drop. The Census Bureau for the first time in 2010 will try sending out replacement questionnaires to homes that don't answer, before sending out enumerators.

Spending depends on what Congress allocates, but over four years the outlay is expected to reach $250 million to $300 million, up from $125 million for the 2000 census. The weight of the advertising turns intense in late 2009 before the April 1 deadline. In 2000, the Census Bureau even ran advertising on the Super Bowl.

No long-form questionnaire
The 2010 census will be the first without a long-form questionnaire, which could make easier one part of the Census Bureau's job. A quarter of homes received the long form during the last census and were asked to answer an extensive list of questions. The Census Bureau now uses the American Community Survey to get the same information.

But good news comes with some bad. First, there has been growing concern about identity theft and privacy since the last census. Enforcement action against illegal immigrants also could make it more difficult to get some families to fill out forms.

A top Census Bureau official has proposed the government suspend enforcement raids during the census count to get more forms completed, but there has been little suggestion so far that the proposal will be adopted.

Multimedia effort
The Census Bureau wants the ad campaign to be an integrated effort using a variety of media, from internet to TV and print with creative in many languages. Lead agencies put together teams with expertise in reaching many constituencies; the Census Bureau has asked that 40% of its account be handled by small businesses, including women- and minority-owned businesses.

The last campaign, from Y&R, carried the tagline "This is your future: Don't leave it blank."

Update: The Census Bureau on Sept. 6 identified DraftFCB's subcontractors as including DraftFCB, Puerto Rico; GlobalHue, New York; A to Sí, New York; IW Group, San Francisco; G&G, Albuquerque, N.M., and Billings, Mont.; Allied Media, Alexandria, Va.; Weber Shandwick, Minneapolis; Jack Morton, New York; Booz Allen Hamilton, Washington; the Marcom Group, Fairfax, Va.; and Zona Design, New York. Initiative Media will buy media. G&G, a Native American agency, is the only one of the group that is repeating from the 2000 Census.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly named DraftFCB's Chicago office as the lead agency on the account. The work will be handled out of New York.
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