French/West/Vaughan's CEO alleges Raleigh unfairly awarded contract to rival firm

RALEIGH, NC: president and CEO Rick French is threatening to leave the city of Raleigh because he believes the city government unfairly awarded a PR contract to another local agency, Capstrat.

RALEIGH, NC: president and CEO Rick French is threatening to leave the city of Raleigh because he believes the city government unfairly awarded a PR contract to another local agency, Capstrat.

The dispute began last month when Capstrat won an advertising and PR contract for a new Raleigh Convention Center. French responded with an e-mail to city officials decrying the decision and saying he planned to move his 72-person office outside the city and direct his firm's future job growth to its New York office.

Since then, "there has been some movement" by city officials to "mediate the grievance," French said. He has given the city four months to address his concerns.

French charged that Capstrat CEO Ken Eudy's "strong pattern of campaign contributions" and personal connections to the mayor of Raleigh influenced the City Council's recent contract decision. He is also claiming that unnamed city officials have echoed his concerns privately and provided him with "hard evidence" that supports his case.

"We as an industry can't condone pay-for-play," said French.

In order to satisfy him, French said the city must revise its bidding process to "ensure that inside information and bid coaching...don't take place."

French claimed that the convention center staff provided Capstrat with its internal marketing plan, which gave the agency an advantage in preparing its bid. But Eudy said he didn't recall seeing such a plan. He added that even if Capstrat had the plan, it is a public record available to anyone who requests it.

Eudy, a former executive director of the North Carolina Democratic Party, confirmed that he has made contributions to Mayor Charles Meeker, and that his wife worked as a fundraiser on Meeker's past campaigns. But he said that the council's vote was based on the quality of Capstrat's bid rather than politics, pointing out the bipartisan composition of the city council. He said the contract would be his agency's first with the city of Raleigh.

Eudy also said that to his knowledge, Capstrat did not have access to any materials that other bidding agencies did not.

Last week, French told a North Carolina paper that FWV would not bid on a $7.4 million state anti-smoking campaign because he believes that Capstrat will win the contract via political connections.

Jayne Kirkpatrick, public affairs director for the city of Raleigh, said that the city had no official response to French's comments. The convention center contract is the city's only PR contract, according to Kirkpatrick.

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