Burson clarifies DTV contract

Weeks ago, PRWeek reported on the final tally - budget and campaign results - of the DTV transition public awareness campaign produced by the FCC and managed by Burson-Marsteller. But now that effort has been caught up in a political football due to the colliding of Republican agendas, Mark Penn, and stimulus funds.

Weeks ago, PRWeek reported on the final tally - budget and campaign results - of the DTV transition public awareness campaign produced by the FCC and managed by Burson-Marsteller. But now that effort has been caught up in a political football due to the colliding of Republican agendas, Mark Penn, and stimulus funds.

Washington paper The Hill reported a story about the multimillion-dollar contract with Burson-Marsteller CEO Mark Penn (a Democrat pollster) in the headline. Not long after, FoxNews, New York Daily News, and other outlets picked up the story. Meanwhile, Republicans sent President Obama a letter demanding an investigation into how stimulus money has been spent, and down the political rabbit hole we go.

The $6 million the Hill reported, is the same figure that PRWeek reported in our story, and we used the same federal documents to do so. What's in dispute is how that money was spent. Anyone that works in PR knows that a two-month, $6-million contract is nearly impossible - when you start talking that kind of money, you start talking advertising. And in fact, when we spoke to both Burson and the FCC in November, they told us much of that budget went to media buying, as well as "creative," and a significant emphasis on radio.

Post-Hill story, Burson has broken down that budget further - offering a rare glimpse into just how a 6-week public awareness campaign is done. You can see the full breakdown on Burson's blog, but it says the PR agency took home about $1.4 million in fees and sister agency Penn Schoen & Berland Associates $142,000. As the manager of the account, Burson also hired and paid out some of the contract monies to a number of other services familiar to those in the PR industry, including VMS, PRNewswire, and Strauss Radio Strategies.

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