Editorial: A lottery with no winners

Published on .

Will Rogers, American original and vaudevillian comedian, once commented: "I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts." Writing about the California Lottery Commission's two-year quest to find an ad agency is much like that. Readers could be forgiven for thinking Advertising Age had published a late April Fool's story last week when we reported the commission is going to rerun the review process-for the third time.

Commission Director-CEO Joan Wilson tried to pass off the debacle by saying "this is not private industry" and that "the commission cannot simply waive a requirement for one bidder that would disadvantage another." This cannot justify its failure to devise and communicate rules sufficiently clearly that the agencies could follow them. While trying to create a level playing field for the agencies is a lofty goal, disqualifying one of them, Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide, because it faxed rather than hand-delivered its media bid is more like bureaucracy gone crazy than good business practice.

In obsessing over the precise ownership of the agencies' media siblings, and whether bids were hand-delivered, the commission lost sight of the purpose of this exercise: choosing the best work and media plan for its budget. The commission's executive committee is lucky this isn't private industry. Few shareholders would tolerate such delay and complication in a simple task.

All the blame cannot be solely laid at the commission's door, however. The agencies should be embarrassed at the part they played in this two-year tragicomedy. Sure, there's a dearth of new work on the West Coast right now. But the persistent protesting of the review results by rivals Grey Worldwide, McCann-Erickson Worldwide and DDB Worldwide must seem pretty petty to the California taxpayers. All parties must commit themselves to making the third review quick and painless.

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