Over two hundred American advertising, media, PR and marketing agencies could be in the running for a slice of the Office of National Drug Control Policy's business -- estimated annual value $130 million (€105.67m; £70.12m).

Problem is, any contender must meet two criteria.

Firstly, they must be listed on the US General Services Administration's schedule of qualified vendors, which requires that their accounting system is certified to handle federal government work. There are two hundred such marketing companies -- and incumbent Ogilvy & Mather (New York) is not among their number.

Secondly, the shops must have liquid assets sufficient to enable them to fund up to $40 million in forward media purchases without advance payment from the client.

Among the two hundred agencies able to fulfil the first criterion, the best known are Arnold Worldwide (Boston), Campbell-Ewald (Warren, Michigan), Foote Cone & Belding (New York), J Walter Thompson (Atlanta), Mullen (Wenham, Massachusetts) and Publicis (New York).

Those able to meet the second benchmark are thinner on the ground, their identity known only to their bankers. Shops deemed "qualified" on both counts will make oral presentations the week of August 16.

If O&M intends to defend the account it will already have applied for 'qualified vendor' accreditation, a process that takes ninety days. If it has not done so it will be excluded from the pitch since its contract expires on September 30.

But there is a third (and more formidable) hurdle for the winning agency: the contractual requirement to work alongside the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

This forty-headed Hydra oversees creative on the ONDCP account and comprises a roster shop for every head. Which means the victor's duties are mainly account management and media buying, rather than creative -- a source of ongoing strife for O&M.

The request for proposals demands that "... the advertising contractor must develop a relationship with PDFA [and] must enter into a subcontract or some other arrangement with PDFA".

"No man can serve two masters," said St Matthew. But that's exactly what the victor must learn to do.

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