Shops consider pitch for drug office work

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In rebidding its $160 million contract currently with Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, the White House drug office is expected to seek out agencies with experience on government accounts-and they are already lining up.

The negative publicity and the civil and criminal probes surrounding Ogilvy's billing practices on the account aren't expected to deter likely contenders, including WPP sibling shop Y&R Advertising, former agency for the U.S. Army; current Army shop Bcom3 Group's Leo Burnett USA; and Cordiant Communications Group's Bates World-wide, which along with Zenith Media formerly handled the drug office. Bates confirmed it would bid, while Burnett declined to comment. A Y&R spokeswoman said it was "impossible to say right now" whether the shop would bid.

Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide and Grey Global Group's Grey Worldwide both said they'd consider bidding. A request for proposals is expected Sept. 6.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy in its initial notice of plans to rebid last week said it seeks a full-service ad agency, even though much of the work is media buying and media planning, and most creative comes from the Partnership for Drug Free America. Ogilvy wouldn't say whether it would compete. While the drug office on Aug. 23 announced plans to rebid the contract, citing "a desire to reaffirm the integrity of the procurement process," a statement that seemed to indicate Ogilvy's contract wouldn't be renewed, no immediate action was taken to cancel the existing contract. Ogilvy is in the third year of a contract that can be renewed annually for up to five years.

Ogilvy in a statement blamed political pressure for the decision. "We have delivered measurable and undisputed results," the statement said. "While we recognize the intense pressure brought by Congress has caused [the drug office] to rebid the contract, we are proud that our work has saved lives and helped to improve the quality of life in communities across America."

Ogilvy critic U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., last week called the drug office's administration of the contract "utter incompetence" and the rebidding "even more incredible," in a letter to President Bush.

Contributing: Richard Linnett, Lisa Sanders, Rich Thomaselli

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