In the two years since President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, at least $92 million has been awarded to PR firms - and more than two-thirds of funds went to contracts related to health promotion and social marketing.
Yet PR pros with experience doing government work say Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) contracts generally make up a similar portion of the annual government spend on marketing and communications.
"It's not surprising," says Michael Cover, SVP of federal government services at Edelman. "HHS is the largest federal agency, with a very large federal spend."
Obama signed the Recovery Act in February 2009, releasing a $787 billion economic stimulus package designed to jump-start the flailing US economy. It later became one of the key issues that Republicans railed against in the recent midterm elections.
HHS awarded at least $65 million to PR firms, including an $18.7 million contract to Ketchum for a health information technology program and upwards of $26 million to Ogilvy PR Worldwide for communications initiatives supporting comparative effectiveness research.Impacting lives
Rob Flaherty, senior partner and president at Ketchum, says in an e-mail that contracts with PR agencies are "particularly important as frequent changes to laws and government programs can have a significant and direct impact on the lives of millions of Americans."
The stimulus plans to award a total of $275 billion for contracts, grants, and loans, and about $160 billion had been dispersed to contractors as of November 2010.
Edward Pound, communications director for the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, says that while all of the stimulus funds have been awarded, some recipients still have to disperse funding to contractors.
Ketchum and Ogilvy, who both have established government contract businesses in Washington, netted the majority of funds among the PR industry. Ogilvy is contracted to receive more than $33 million, including two contracts with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and one to support a Centers for Disease Control program called Communities Putting Prevention to Work.
"It's in line with the goals of the stimulus act," adds Cover, who worked at Ogilvy until mid-2009. He notes the funds are expected to help bring efficiencies to federal agencies, as well as "impart new information, such as comparative effectiveness research."
Ketchum is set to receive nearly $23 million for the campaign it developed to educate consumers and healthcare providers about electronic health records and the Hitech Act, as well as another $2.2 million from the Department of Commerce as a subcontractor to IBM.
Pound says funds dispersed during Q4 2010 will be made publicly available in January.In the media eye
Several contracts awarded to PR firms under the Recovery Act generated mainstream media attention, such as Ketchum's health IT contract and the $5.9 million the Federal Communications Commission contracted to Burson-Marsteller for the digital TV transition in 2009.
Weber Shandwick also garnered slightly more than $3 million in funds as PR partner for the 2010 US Census Bureau campaign. Draftfcb, an ad agency also owned by Interpublic Group, is the main contractor for the US Census Bureau's communications effort.
Other firms received smaller chunks of stimulus funds, such as MWW Group and The Rogers Group, which garnered $180,933 and $500,000, respectively, in stimulus monies. Porter Novelli was awarded $265,000 as a subcontractor to the Helix Water District, which gathered $345,000 in total.
One closely watched metric now is the requirement for contractors to report whether jobs were created or saved through Recovery Act funds. Ogilvy reports that it plans to recruit a senior health communications specialist, dissemination specialist, and a website developer in Atlanta to support the CDC community program. Burson says its FCC contract "preserved three full-time jobs that would have been eliminated without the benefit of this assignment and the revenue earned from it."
Stimulus spurs new contractsComparative effectiveness research
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality will explain the $1.1 billion stimulus investment via comparative effectiveness research. Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide is helping create a publicity center to support the release of the researchHealth technology
To fulfill the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act mandate, the HHS hired Ketchum to target consumers, patients, and healthcare providers about personal health information