DoH bypasses COI to set up agency roster

LONDON - The Department of Health is to create its first PR agency roster to handle more than £500,000 worth of government campaigns.

Following in the footsteps of the Department for Education and Skills, which has its own eight-strong roster, the DoH, overseen by secretary of state for health Alan Milburn, has decided to cement its policy of bypassing the Central Office of Information's PR procurement service.

DoH communications team leader David Horton said: 'For a number of years we have not used the COI in hiring external PR support. We felt it was best to choose for ourselves because of the specialist work in health. This roster tidies that up.'

The DoH will continue to use the COI to procure above-the-line marketing activity.

The roster is expected to be around 11 strong. Work will be solely for health promotion campaigns.

Around £600,000 was spent on external PR support last year and this year's figure, which is yet to be finalised, is expected to be similar.

Campaigns for the year are expected to cover cigarette smoking, teenage pregnancy and mental health awareness.

A DoH spokesman ruled out the possibility of rostered agencies being involved in campaigns to smooth through the Government's policy of increasing private sector involvement in healthcare.

'That will be handled by

our own media unit,' Horton added.

The setting up of the roster is project managed by communications team leader Fiona Samson and agencies have until 27 February to apply.

COI corporate PR manager Janice O'Reilly said the DoH's decision to follow the DfES did not indicate the service would veer away from PR procurement.

Meanwhile, the COI was this week assured of its own long-term future by the Cabinet Office, which has completed a five-yearly review of the service.

That review will also see COI chief executive Carol Fisher take on an additional role as chief adviser on marketing communications to Number 10 director of communications and strategy Alastair Campbell. She is specifically briefed to find ways to cut campaign costs.

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