O&M Gets Cold Turkey Drug Treatment from Congress

26 July 2002

What WAMN termed “the most extreme scenario” in the Congress versus Ogilvy & Mather melodrama [WAMN: 24-Jul-02], was adopted by the House of Representatives on Wednesday. The House voted to block payments to the agency by 308 votes to 121 as from the new fiscal year commencing October – effectively rescinding the agency’s reappointment to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy account.

Earlier this month the New York office of WPP Group-owned O&M retained the business in a five-sided shootout in the face of alleged fraudulent overcharging and subsequent repayment of $1.8 million (€1.8m; £1.14m) to the Justice Department - and despite its denials of wrongdoing.

With the expiry of O&M’s contract term on September 30 this year, the business was put out to mandatory pitch in the spring, contested by the incumbent and four other creative/media agency pairings. Given the preceding controversy, few expected O&M to retain the business.

The announcement on July 3 of the shop’s reappointment to the anti-drug account for a further five year term (subject to annual renewal) caused an immediate furore. Various politicos took up arms against the decision, leading to Wednesday’s landslide anti-Ogilvy vote.

The legislative mechanism used was an amendment proposed by Representative Bob Barr (Republican, Georgia) to a treasury, postal and general appropriations bill. The revision bars payments to “any entity that has entered into a settlement to pay claims against that entity by the United States under the False Claims Act.”

But at the same time, various congressmen loudly affirmed their support for the for the anti-drug advertising program itself, stressing that it was solely the reappointment of O&M to which they objected.

The objectors said they planned to alter the wording of the amendment when it goes before the House-Senate conference committee on July 30. The redrafting is intended to ensure the drug office program does not ‘go dark’ during its transition to a new agency.

Said Barr: “I wish to restore integrity to the media campaign. To ensure its ongoing success. Not to end it. It is time to draw a line in the sand and take a stand. It is shameful for the government to reward any company that has admitted to fraud and reportedly is subject to part of criminal investigation for its actions.”

Insiders expect Act III of this long-running drama to reveal a few more intriguing plot twists before the final curtain.

Data sourced from: AdAge.com; additional content by WARC staff