AUSTIN, TX: Sherry Matthews Advocacy Marketing picked up a $4 million state public education contract after the Texas Higher Education Co-ordinating Board (THECB) parted ways with its original agency choice.The contract is part of THECB's Closing the Gap effort. Studies forecast a drop in the percentage of Texans earning college degrees over the next two decades, and the state legislature appropriated $5 million for the biennium ending August 2003 to address the problem. Most of that money is earmarked for a public education campaign that will include advertising and PR initiatives. THECB issued an RFP late last year and awarded the contract in December to a group of agencies led by NuStats, an Austin-based market research firm. Initial phases of the project depend heavily on research. "Things just didn't work out, THECB purchasing agent John Dobrich said of the board's decision to drop Nu-Stats in May. "We agreed on a mutual termination." Matthews got the business because it ranked second in THECB's scoring of proposals, followed closely by Fleishman-Hillard and Austin's Christian Hubble Media & Communications. Focus Latino and Buckalew Media will partner with Matthews on the project. Matthews holds a number of state contracts, and will use its statewide broadcast network to distribute PSAs to radio and TV stations, said the agency's media relations director Robert Nash. Advertising and PR messages are still being developed, but will be directed at multiple audiences such as teachers, parents, and young students, with special emphasis on minority groups. "Reaching kids through earned media is going to be exciting and challenging, Nash said. While current funding only covers the coming year, an independent nonprofit organization called the College for All Texans Foundation will raise money to continue the Closing the Gap program, Dobrich said.