Ad contract up for grabs

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Published: April 26,2004

JACKSON – It`s a question almost every industry professional wants to know the answer to, but nobody is willing to publicly venture a guess.

The buzz around metro Jackson`s tight-knit advertising community, where the dominant players are holding their cards close to the vest, centers around the lucrative state advertising contract: Who will land it?

One public relations guru whispered: “That`s a touchy subject around here.” Another: “That would be a nice piece of business to have.”

“We don`t know yet who will get the contract,” said Mississippi Development Authority tourism director Craig Ray. “We`ll go through our normal RFP (request for proposal) process, with a timeline for presentations. Hopefully, we`ll make a decision no later than July 15.”

For the last four years, under Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, Jackson-based GodwinGroup, Mississippi`s oldest and largest advertising agency, has held the advertising contract for the Mississippi Development Authority, including the name change and logo design from the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development (MDECD) to its current name “to shorten it, and still make it easily identifiable,” said Lisa Siegel, advertising and promotions manager for MDA. The agency`s contract with MDA expires at the end of June, following the fiscal year.

“Every four years, we are required by law to do an overall agency review, and that usually coincides with the changing of the governor,” explained Siegel. “Just because there is a change of the governor doesn`t necessarily mean we will change ad agencies, but history has shown that we usually do.”

For the eight years preceding Musgrove, when Republican Gov. Kirk Fordice was in office from 1992 to 2000, The Ramey Agency of Jackson handled advertising for the department. Before that, the work was done in-house, said Siegel.

“We really didn`t have a big budget before that time because the casinos had not yet come in,” she said.

By state law, MDA is required to advertise twice the RFP for advertising agency services. At press time, Siegel planned to advertise the RFP on April 22 and April 29. The bid process should begin May 6. A committee consisting of about 10 representatives from MDA, including tourism, purchasing, economic development and contractual agreements, will review every written proposal using a matrix and grade each one individually.

“We generally take the three highest scores and ask those agencies to come in and make a presentation,” said Siegel. “It`s not necessarily the biggest agency, but one that has the best strategy or focus for growth.”

At one time, The Ramey Agency handled the state tourism account, and Mitchum & Company had the economic development contract.

“For some reason, the contract was cancelled, so they put economic development up for bid,” said Siegel, who was with Ramey at the time. “We pitched it, and won the whole ball of wax – economic development, retirement and tourism under one umbrella.”

Because GodwinGroup worked with the previous administration, and The Ramey Agency CEO Chris Ray (no relation to Craig Ray) is the nephew of MDA director Leland Speed, many people have speculated that The Ramey Agency will win the new contract.

“That`s not necessarily true,” said Siegel. “Every year, you’re going to hear, `this person has connections here, and that person has connections there,’ but this committee will still go through the process.”

After presentations are made, committee members vote on their agency of choice.

“I don`t think there`s ever been a tie, because once you get in the presentation, you’re so awestruck about something someone has come up with that you’re usually swayed one way or another,” said Siegel. “Then we invite that particular agency back to delve deeper into negotiations. We discuss with them whether we`ll put them on a fee or a job-by-job basis. For the past four years, it`s been on a project-by-project basis, and that has allowed us to save money. Also, we generally contract for four years with a stipulation for an annual evaluation, usually keeping the same agency.”

The stakes for the state advertising contract are high. The tourism division spends roughly $2.4 million per year for media placement, and the agency on record generally makes 15%. Another $200,000 is spent on production, providing the advertising agency revenues totaling about $560,000 annually.

“We hope to have someone on board by July 1, but because so many folks in our office are traveling, we want to have an agency of record in place by July 15 at the latest,” said Siegel. “That`s not uncommon during a gubernatorial change. In my history here, when we get a new advertising agency, they generally want to change the strategy and that also means possibly changing the slogan, which is right now, ‘feels like coming home.’ If we do that, it would mean reworking materials to make sure we fit that strategy.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.

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