Agencies will troop in to fight for Nat'l Guard

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The National Guard has decided to call in the reserves.

The U.S. government, continuing a pattern of military ad reviews begun this spring, has announced its intent to solicit bids for the ad accounts of the National Guard. On Nov. 13, the government will officially issue requests for proposals for six contracts for the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force National Guard, valued at a maximum of $400 million over five years.

The contracts, all of which are for one year with a government option to renew for four years, will include traditional TV and radio advertising, for a maximum of $150 million over five years; marketing or sales promotion, $100 million; state advertising, $50 million; non-commercial announcements, $50 million; Internet advertising, $25 million; and retention programs, $25 million.

The RFPs for traditional advertising, marketing and non-commercial announcements will be open to agencies of all sizes; the contract for state advertising will be restricted to small businesses; and the contracts for Internet advertising and retention programs will be restricted to "disadvantaged" businesses.

INCUMBENT TO COMPETE

Incumbent Laughlin Marinaccio & Owens, Arlington, Va., which has handled the National Guard account since 1996, plans to compete for all accounts other than the Internet and retention programs, said agency President Doug Laughlin.

The government asked agencies that bid on the business to commit to a five-year period, however, each year the government has the right to revisit the contract. When Laughlin Marinaccio won the most recent contract in 1998, the account was budgeted at $80 million over five years. However, because the $80 million will be spent within three years time, the contract is being rebid.

When RFPs for the U.S. Army and Air Force were issued earlier this year, they included performance-based incentives. It is not yet known whether the National Guard contracts will include similar compensation structures. A government spokeswoman declined to comment on the details of the compensation, other than to say that all information will be released in detailed RFPs next week.

Tying compensation to performance is not uncommon in the private sector, but it is relatively new for the military. The idea came to the fore last year in a report on Defense Department advertising prepared by Democratic media consultant Carter Eskew and Republican consultant Mike Murphy.

Opinion is mixed, however, on whether private-sector approaches will translate well to the armed forces.

"With military recruiting, the economy and the unemployment rate and so many factors influence whether young people join or not. . . . It's unpredictable," said Mr. Laughlin, who is opposed to linking agency compensation with recruitment or retention.

But consultant Robert Ravitz of R. Ravitz Associates said he believes the bonuses have changed the playing field. "All of a sudden, military accounts are a lot more interesting for agencies because of the incentive compensation. It's a difficult marketing challenge, which means agencies can prove themselves," said Mr. Ravitz, who consulted with Seiter & Miller, New York, one of the agencies that made an unsuccessful pitch for the National Guard account in 1997.

Compensation tied to performance is just one consideration agencies must weigh when it comes to military accounts. Calling the RFP process "tedious," and noting that many government officials do not "speak marketingese," one agency executive concluded that there are "more reasons not to go after [the account] than to go after it."

The closing date for receipt of proposals will be Dec. 13.

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