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The government finally is moving to select a media planning and buying shop for one of the richest such contracts it has ever awarded, what could be more than $850 million in paid anti-drug advertising over the next five years.

A request for formal proposals from ad agencies and media buying services is now scheduled to be distributed around May 1 to agencies that have expressed interest.

Michele Trotter, a Department of Health & Human Services contracting specialist who is handling the search for the White House Office of National Drug Policy Control, said more than 100 agencies have requested the proposal.

A few details of the request had yet to be finalized last week, although it was learned the government also may seek some advertising creative in the contract, set for a $175 million budget for the first year with options for annual renewal for the following four years.

The selected agency will have to do extensive negotiating with media companies to fulfill the drug policy office's hope of getting a free ad for nearly every paid ad.

The office thus expects to achieve annual media exposure of $350 million, though it says some of that additional time and space could result from donations from corporate sponsors.

While most ad creative for the drug policy office is expected to come from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, the office is expected to ask any agency selected to be available to do additional ads as needed.

The government's process for awarding an ad contract is complex. Ms. Trotter said the proposals received from agencies will be evaluated by a panel and then finalists will be interviewed before a final decision is made in late August or September.


The office has run anti-drug ads in a dozen markets using agencies and media buyers originally contracted to do Defense Department work. National ads are expected to begin in early July, a month later than earlier suggested, though details of what agencies would place them were uncertain last week.

Agencies that haven't expressed previous interest in the proposal can still get a copy by faxing a request to (301) 442-3849 and asking for proposal No. 282-980017.

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