Calif. awards anti-smoking PR contract to Allison & Partners

SACRAMENTO: The California Department of Public Health has selected Allison & Partners as its AOR for its tobacco control program following a competitive bid.

SACRAMENTO: The California Department of Public Health has selected Allison & Partners as its AOR for its tobacco control program following a competitive bid. The contract is for three years with an option for two additional years and is worth an estimated $1 million annually.

The $1 million contract is for PR only, and includes strategic direction, social media and various PR initiatives and events, according to Colleen Stevens, chief of the media campaign unit for the California Tobacco Control Program. Tax levied on cigarettes funds the program costs. The contract will also include helping “strengthen collaboration with local partners, primarily health departments,” she said.

Nine agencies expressed interest in the account following a RFP issued in September including long-time incumbent The Rogers Group, according to Stevens. That list was narrowed down to four agencies, Allison, Edelman, GolinHarris and PainePR, and then culled to two finalists, Allison and GolinHarris."

“What we liked about Allison & Partners was their strategic approach, the people they presented and that they understood our ‘social norm change' [philosophy],” Stevens told PRWeek. “We also felt they could offer us good cost efficiencies moving forward.”

The Rogers Group had held the account since 1994, and was the only agency to pitch when the contract came up for bid in 1999 and again in 2004. “We had been pleased with The Rogers Group, but we made a real commitment this time around that we would do strong outreach to agencies,” said Stevens. “There is an ongoing myth that the only people who win state business are the incumbents. But often time the incumbents are the only ones that apply. So we were really committed to having a robust competition in terms of this review.”

Allison will start work on March 1, 2010, when the contract between the California Tobacco Control Program and The Rogers Group expires.

Lynne Doll, president and partner at Rogers Group, told PRWeek by e-mail that she is proud of the firm's work on the previous campaign.

“Our state has one of the lowest smoking rates in the nation,” she said. “We will continue to work on the issue on behalf of other clients.”

Stevens noted that while the state agency has made great strides in terms of tobacco control, four million Californians still smoke, and 70% of those want to quit. “Our job is to do everything we can to make it easier for them to quit,” Stevens said. She said Allison will use newer channels, like social media, to help reach people about the dangers of smoking, including around secondhand smoke.

Scott Allison, president and CEO of Allison & Partners, said this is the first piece of business the firm has won from the state of California.

"Frankly, we haven't pursued a lot of state contracts because it always looked like a very difficult process,” he said. “But the state said they were very interested in a very competitive process. We knew going in it would be tough, so I don't want to say we were surprised to win, but we were definitely thrilled."

Allison declined to provide specifics on the upcoming work but said it would be serviced primarily out of the agency's San Francisco and Los Angeles offices.

"We may do some hiring around this, maybe not to staff this particular client, but to add to some of the other clients as we move some folks around,” he added. “The ripple effect should definitely be some hiring."

Earlier this year, the Tobacco Control Program also hired a new ad agency, Rubin Postaer and Associates, following a review. The incumbent was Ground Zero Advertising.

Updated January 7, 2010, 10:40am

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