A $25 million New Jersey tourism contract won by MWW in April is under media scrutiny after allegations it was awarded after a biased review.
The contract, first reported by PRWeek, required the firm to create a campaign to quiet concerns by potential vacationers that the state was not open for business after Superstorm Sandy. The goal of the account, which resulted in “Stronger than the Storm” jingle-filled ads, was also to encourage New Jerseyans and visitors to shop local.
A report by New Jersey's Asbury Park Press, citing recently unveiled documents, suggests that MWW may have won the work because it proposed featuring Gov. Chris Christie (R) in ads while a competing bid from Sigma Group did not. It also reported that MWW and a subcontractor are billing the state $4.7 million for employee compensation, compared with Sigma's proposed $2.5 million request for payment.
As to why the state picked the more expensive bid, media outlets have speculated that Christie is hoping to use the national reach of the campaign for greater name recognition as he gears up for a possible presidential run in 2016.
The campaign has targeted the East Coast and mid-Atlantic states, with plans to run in California, because these are the regions from which New Jersey receives most of its visitors, according to the RFP for the contract.
Further feeding into the theory of bias by the Christie administration is the fact that one of the officials on the RFP selection committee, appointed by the governor, once received a $49,000 loan from him when he was a US attorney.
The Newark Star Ledger also slammed the ads – and the decision to include Christie in them – in an editorial on Tuesday. It said “the stunt is legal, but it is as sleazy as it can be.”
Michael Drewniak, press secretary for Christie, said MWW was the best choice for the contract because it has statewide connections that allow it to quickly mobilize to move the needle with wary tourists.
The comment was seconded by Carreen Winters, an EVP at MWW, who said that “as the only national PR firm headquartered in New Jersey, MWW has the insight and experience to develop and implement large-scale, integrated programs quickly.”