AG ad bid draws criticism

By Chris Dickerson | Sep 19, 2006

CHARLESTON – A recent state Attorney General's office bid for advertising services is drawing criticism from some state public relations and advertising executives.

The July 31 Request for Quotation (RFQ) from Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office is written, the critics say, so that only one or two agencies would qualify to make the bid.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Fran Hughes, however, denies that the RFQ was written with a particular vendor in mind.

It is a somewhat standard procedure for many state agencies to write bids so that a certain firms will have a better or worse chance of winning the contract. However, officials at some prominent PR and advertising firms expressed concern with this particular AG bid.

The bid details the job as service for the Consumer Division of the Attorney General's office and says all services will be designed to reach subgroups of citizens with specific target issues.

Specifically, the bid says the vendor will be able to provide creative development of television, radio and print work; media research, planning and buying services for these spots; documentation regarding credentials, staff, experience, achievement, awards and services offered; and plan, develop and provide logistical support for public events designed to educate consumers and aid the public in accessing the services of the AG's office.

Most of the bid is standard fare, but the critics took issue with a few details.

One is a contract requirement that says the successful bidder "will be able to provide field representatives to do consumer advocacy work. The Attorney General's office shall approve of the individuals hired for this task and when they are to be hired."

One PR official said that clearly is outside the normal state hiring process.

"They're skirting personnel policy," the official said on condition of anonymity. "These people would be on the state payroll. It would be like the AG's office is running its own temp agency … a quasi-state agency.

"It puts (the state Department of) Administration in an odd situation. I think there is a serious ethics problem with this."

The official also had problems with the proposed evaluation process that, in part, says preference will be given to bidders with a history of providing services in a consumer advocacy-oriented program and to bidders that have won awards for consumer advocacy promotional spots.

The PR official said that eliminates nearly every firm in the state.

"I don't know of anyone with consumer advocacy awards," the official said. "Traditional awards … I have no problem with that. But consumer advocacy awards? Bull.

"It simply ought to be what you can do for the state."

Another PR official said members of his firm were dumbfounded when they saw this RFQ for the same reasons.

"When we looked at the thing, we laughed and threw it in the trash," that official said. "We knew it was written with one or two firms in mind and that we didn't have a prayer.

"It's more than a little ridiculous. In all my years of working with these state bids, this is the goofiest one I've ever seen."

According to officials with the state Department of Administration's Purchasing Division, only one vendor submitted a bid when they were to be opened Aug. 31. That is Cheri Heflin & Associates, which previously has done work with the AG's office.

The Heflin bid still is being evaluated, state officials said Wednesday.

Still, Hughes said the RFQ was not written with a certain vendor in mind.

"That never crossed our mind," she said Tuesday. "There's no guarantee. We'll take who is most qualified."

Hughes said the requirement about consumer advocacy awards seemed natural to her.

"I think it would be normal to ask for people with consumer advocacy experience," "There was nothing untoward."

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