WASHINGTON: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) awarded a contract of about $4.36 million to Burson-Marsteller to complete the public awareness campaign for the DTV transition in June, an increase from the initial budget.
Rick Kaplan, an FCC employee who shepherded the DTV transition team as deputy director, said much of that additional budget went to media buying, including a special emphasis on radio, but also PR activities.
“We really enlisted Burson's help more than we initially anticipated,” he added.
The internal PR team at the FCC totaled five people, Kaplan said, noting we were “outmatched” for the scope of the work, which intended to engage the 3 million American households unprepared for the switch in May. The FCC identified several “most at-risk” populations, including Hispanics, blacks, Native Americans, seniors, persons with disabilities, and rural residents. The transition primarily affected those with older TVs.
Burson was hired less than six weeks before the transition was set to take place on June 12. The initial contract, as PRWeek reported in May, was expected to be $3.5 million for PR and advertising work. As the transition team worked to get the message out in that last month, through PSAs, engaging community groups, churches, broadcast partners, and on-the-ground events in the 49 “hot spot” markets it had identified, “we were finding success,” said Kaplan, so the budget was increased.
The total sum of Burson's take home fees was about $1.4 million, the PR agency said.
Burson enlisted sister agency Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates for creative services, including b-roll and final packages for TV and radio outlets. It was given more than $2 million for a media buy, and ultimately collected $142,000 in fees, Burson said. In addition, Florida-based Balsera Communications was paid $90,000 to target multicultural audiences in several markets. Other top subcontractors that Burson paid to aid the campaign were Multiview ($58,000), Strauss Radio Strategies ($43,000), and Video Monitoring Services ($13,800).
Mary Crawford, MD and Washington market leader for Burson's public affairs practice, led the agency's team for the campaign.
“From a PR perspective, it was very much about carrying the message directly to where these targeted audiences live and work, not expecting them to find it,” she said. “We worked with the FCC, helping to organize training sessions in these unprepared communities and working with community groups… We had to interrupt people as they went about their daily lives.”
Initially, the transition from analog signals to digital TV was slated for February 17, 2009, but the incoming Obama administration pushed that date back to June 12 after concerns surfaced that millions were still unprepared and confused by the process.
Overall, the campaign is largely being heralded as a success. Earlier this month, Nielsen released figures showing that 97.5% of US households were prepared for the transition in the week prior to the June deadline, demonstrating a “sharp decline in the number of completely unready homes” compared to prior months. By October 4, 2009, only 0.5% of households were unready, Nielsen said.
In July, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps remarked on the transition in a meeting: “I think I can sum up my feelings and the feelings of the entire FCC staff in a single word: ‘Whew.'”
Those involved with the effort say it was one of the most intense campaigns they've worked on.
Crawford has more than 20 years of communications experience, including working for clients like the US Treasury, Coca-Cola, and HP. The former director of public affairs for the US Department of Commerce, she also served as spokesperson for the Republican National Committee at one time. Yet she describes the DTV effort as the “most intensive program” in which she has been involved.
David Duckenfield, a partner and the PR lead at Balsera, recalled the intense deadline pressure as “insane,” but noted that the end result was “wildly successful.” The firm was hired by Burson in May and had one week to produce a strategy proposal, he explained. Balsera used its already established ties to the multicultural market to execute media and community outreach in specific key markets, including Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Albuquerque, NM.
Results from the May 15-June 24 intensive period of the campaign are included in the final contract on Recovery.gov. They include 683,955,215 news media impressions (print, radio, online, TV); 458 media interviews with FCC spokespeople; contact with 658 key influencers and third-party organizations; 40,961,550 PSA airings; and 171,368,100 advertising impressions.
Kaplan, who is now an adviser to an FCC commissioner, said he was very pleased with the results.
Burson's contract with the FCC ended this past summer. Prior to hiring Burson, the federal agency worked with Ketchum; its contract ended in February 2009.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this article quoted Recovery.gov documents that showed an almost $6-million contract being awarded to Burson; $2.7 million to Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates; and $69,282 to Balsera Communications. When asked in November about the increase in contract monies to $6 million, both the FCC and Burson said much of the extra money went to media buying and creative work, such as b-roll packages and some print ads, which PRWeek reported. However, after a December 9 story about the $6-million contract was published in The Hill, both Burson and the FCC disputed the $6-million figure. Burson released a statement on its blog outlining where all of the money went, including to a number of subcontractors. This story was updated December 11, 2009, using these new numbers.