FDA picks roster for up to $210m in anti-tobacco work

WASHINGTON: The US Food and Drug Administration has created a roster of three firms that will be eligible for anti-tobacco outreach projects that target at-risk and underserved populations.

WASHINGTON: The US Food and Drug Administration has created a roster of three firms that will be eligible for anti-tobacco outreach projects that target at-risk and underserved populations.

After a competitive RFP process that spanned seven months, the federal agency selected Rescue Social Change Group, Sensis, and Better World Advertising. The contracts are collectively worth up to $210 million over a five-year period, according to award notices. The funding will come from a grant established by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which was signed into law in 2009.

At-risk and underserved populations include minority ethnic and racial groups, gays and lesbians, people with disabilities, pregnant women, rural populations, current and former members of the military, and people of low socioeconomic status, according to the RFP.

The scope of potential work for the firms includes public education campaigns, strategic campaign planning, website development, new and social media, traditional media outreach, and community and corporate outreach, according to the RFP.

A separate solicitation released last fall by the FDA to establish a list of firms for reaching out to “large-scale, nationwide” audiences will be decided by the September 30 end of its fiscal year, the agency said in RFP documents.

The FDA has indicated that each marketing firm will receive at least one project under the contract, said Jeff Jordan, founder and president of Rescue Social Change Group. It is his agency's first federal contract.

A unique aspect of this search process was the lag time before the decision, he noted.

“We put our application in back in December, and it was a long wait to finally get some good news,” Jordan said.

He noted that he appreciated that the FDA was nuanced in describing the populations it wants to reach, instead of saying it will only target Hispanics or black consumers, for instance.

The federal agency outlined that it is aware there are subcultures within these demographics that may be more tempted to use tobacco than others, which Jordan said matches how his agency creates communications projects.  

“Our approach is to go beyond demographics and try to understand the culture and lifestyle and then make a campaign,” he said.

After years of conducting national and state anti-tobacco campaigns, the winning firms have challenges ahead as they look for innovative ways to target current and potential smokers, said Les Pappas, president and founder of Better World Advertising.

“It gets a lot harder because we're going after folks who weren't reached that easily by other campaigns,” he said.

In April, Vermont cut ties with the longtime incumbent of its smoking cessation initiative, Kelliher Samets Volk of Burlington, VT, to hire Rescue Social Change Group. The Department of Health and Human Services hired Sensis in late May to reach Hispanic consumers about preventative measures in the Affordable Care Act.

Representatives from Sensis did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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