CMS selects four primary firms for multifaceted five-year effort

WASHINGTON: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has tapped Ketchum, Ogilvy, Porter Novelli, and Weber Shandwick to serve as its primary communicators over the next five years as the department seeks to overhaul its image and outreach efforts.

WASHINGTON: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has tapped Ketchum, Ogilvy, Porter Novelli, and Weber Shandwick to serve as its primary communicators over the next five years as the department seeks to overhaul its image and outreach efforts.

The Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity contract (IDIQ) puts the firms in a position to compete against one another for task orders issued by CMS, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, when work is needed. The combined contracts for the work done by all of the firms over the five-year period will have a cap of $300 million. Actual contracts will depend on congressional funding.

CMS said it would use the opportunity afforded by its new team of agencies to expand its audience. In the past, CMS has focused its messages on Medicare beneficiaries and their caregivers; now, the agency is refocusing that message toward adult children of beneficiaries and the people who are approaching Medicare age.

"[Our] mission is very broad, so we have a broad range of needs," said Kathleen Harrington, director of external affairs for CMS.

"What we see as extremely exciting is CMS is in the process of transforming the agency," said Kim Derwinski, VP and group manager of Ketchum's social marketing practice. "[It was] an agency that had in the past been focused more on claims processing, and it's becoming an agency that is focused on ensuring health security for the beneficiaries."

CMS has issued the first assignment to firms for proposals and hopes to have one of them working on it by the end of September.

"We have a task now of increasing awareness and utilization for the preventive benefits [of Medicare]," Harrington said. "Then we have the challenge of the enrollment period starting in November. This task is especially important and complicated. The firms will be competing over how to best perform this."

"Each task tends to be pretty big, but we don't know what will come down the pike," said Pam Jenkins, project director and president of Powell Tate/Weber Shandwick, "except that we know who its audiences are and the work could entail any area of communications."

In addition to individual campaigns, CMS is looking to overhaul its image. It has been working on an internal cultural change since the inception of the Medicare modernization bill that was signed into law in 2003 and the implementation of the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, which went into effect earlier this year.

"We are in the process of a significant transformation, both in the Medicare program and how we relate to the beneficiary," Harrington added. "We have reorganized how we do communications. In the past, it was highly focused on media relations; now, additionally, it's focused on partners at the local level."

CMS has developed partnerships over the past two years with more than 50,000 local community groups, including senior service organizations, faith-based organizations with senior health ministries, and state health insurance programs, to create awareness on the local level. CMS is using these partnerships to reach Medicare beneficiaries "where they live, work, play, and pray," said Harrington. Many of the local groups do awareness-building and education activities, and some do one-on-one counseling for seniors about how to make the most of the healthcare program.

An RFP for the work was issued in late 2005. There were eight finalists, and the four firms were signed August 9. Ketchum and Ogilvy had worked with the government agency on a previous IDIQ contract for the past five years that encompassed similar work, while WS won a research and communications RFP in October 2005. PN has not previously worked with CMS. The government agency formerly had contracts with GCI Group and the Academy for Educational Development.

WS has enlisted McCann for the ad component, Maya Advertising for Hispanic marketing, Lagrant Communications for African-American marketing, and IW Group for Asian-American marketing.

Core Ogilvy team members include sister agencies Ogilvy & Mather and Mindshare USA, as well as Maya Advertising, ABT Associates, Lockheed Martin Aspen Systems, Customer Value Partners, and New Editions Consulting. PN will be working with Bearing Point and Putnam Ross Consulting Group. Ketchum declined to discuss who it had enlisted.

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