California High-Speed Rail Authority gives pitch process a black eye

Agencies frequently grouse over the RFP process from unannounced cattle calls to the involvement of pencil-counting procurement trolls.

Agencies frequently grouse over the RFP process from unannounced cattle calls to the involvement of pencil-counting procurement trolls. They also have their favorite clients who allow them full involvement in the business, creating a true partnership, and others they wish they had never signed on that dotted NDA line. Sometimes firms' accusations are spot on, other times not. The mess that is the California High-Speed Rail Authority PR account falls into the former.

PRWeek has chronicled this account over the last two years, through a mangled RFP that was blackened by hints of favoritism; two agencies, including one that fired the California agency itself; and back to another RFP, which was tossed out and restarted within months, only to have the organization say this week that it would like to keep the work in-house and maybe spend time building out its internal staff instead of adding externally. In short, an incredible, colossal waste of time and money – on both sides.

It's difficult to know all the factors that played a role in the destruction of what is an important communications project. One factor, of course, is the rail proposal's own controversial history and development in the state. The massive infrastructure project is scheduled to begin next year but disputes continue over its future and the money needed to complete the ambitious vision.

If you live in, or at sometime were a resident of the Golden State as I was, you know that it is also known as the referendum state and a land of the government ban: bans on fast food in certain neighborhoods, tanning beds for teens, possession of shark fins, plastic bags, cell phones while driving. It is a state where healthy debate is encouraged on all seemingly standard policies. In general, I find its rules and regulations are for the greater good, aimed at protecting its citizens and its land, but at times, it represents the overreach of government, or in this case, the inefficiencies inherent in a culture of constant review and assessment by changing committees.

If I were running an agency, I wouldn't want to touch this account. Yes, it's worth a lot, particularly given the potential for a continued drawn-out public affairs battle, but I wouldn't want to risk the absolute agony it would be sure to inflict on my people, not to mention the loss of resources involved in preparing for a pitch. It's clear that the California High-Speed Rail Authority is one of the worst offenders when it comes to being a bad client. I have to imagine it's not going to be easy building out that internal staff either.

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