Ogilvy cut off from anti-drug account

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The White House drug office said it was not congressional opposition, but rather a desire for a performance-based agreement that drove its decision last week against renewing its $150 million-a-year youth anti-drug contract with Ogilvy & Mather.

"While Ogilvy has done good work and produced powerful creative, we are making an effort to improve transparency and performance," said Tom Riley, a drug office spokesman. He said future contracts would set performance standards for the drug office agency to be judged against, such as ability to meet deadlines and the efficiency of media buys. The WPP Group agency is free to rebid the contract, he said.

Ogilvy declined to comment.

The agency managed to hold onto the account last July in a competition with four other bidders, including Interpublic Group of Cos.' Foote Cone & Belding Worldwide, New York, pitching with Initiative Media and McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, with Universal McCann, both Interpublic shops. The now-defunct Bates Worldwide, New York, pitched with Zenith Media as did Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi.

troubled past

Ogilvy won the drug office account in 1999 but later ran into trouble with its billings amid allegations that its employees altered time sheets and that it billed for items that weren't allowed under government contracts. That prompted both a criminal and civil fraud probe and the drug office put the contract out for new bids in 2001. In early 2002, after agreeing to settle civil claims by forgoing $1.8 million in billings and implementing a new ethics code, Ogilvy won the new contract subject to annual renewal. The criminal probe continues.

The latest move follows the departure of Alan Levitt as long time director of the ad campaign. Mr. Levitt and other drug office officials have praised Ogilvy for its work, which includes researching targets and overseeing media buying for the campaign. Almost all ads for the effort come from the Partnership for A Drug-Free America, although Ogilvy has also done some ads for the Partnership.

Getting a clear picture of the campaign's track record is difficult. One study showed the campaign was effective at swaying adults against drugs, but did not do so well at swaying teens. Recent studies have shown more success. A major study of the campaign is due for release shortly.

Drug Czar John P. Walters in June 2002 made major changes in the ad program, raising the age level of kids the campaign targets and turning more attention to marijuana.

Congressional critics, however, were upset that Ogilvy continued to handle the account and used the ad agency's past problems as a focus for other changes in the drug office campaign.

A bill was introduced in the Senate last month that would have required the agency's departure and given greater control of the campaign to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

Sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, with Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Joseph Biden, D-Del., the bill requires "disqualification of any corporation ... from bidding ... if such entity within the last 10 years in connection with the national media campaign has been convicted of any federal criminal offense subject to any federal civil judgement or penalty in a civil proceeding involving the United States or settled any federal civil proceeding or potential proceeding."

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