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O'Dwyer's Newsletter - May 29, 2012 - Vol. 45 - No. 22 (download PDF version)

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A $17.6M assignment handed to Porter Novelli in late April by the Dept. of Health and Human Services to promote the benefits available to Americans under the Affordable Care Act is the latest in a long line of political PR footballs in recent years.


PN, which has promoted aspects of the law for the HHS since its passage in 2010, was one of five firms – and one of four incumbents – selected by the HHS’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in September to handle communications assignments.

CMS, as the Medicare agency is known, issued a task order to PN on April 30 for the maligned assignment, which the federal agency describes as “promoting the overall awareness of preventative benefits” with a goal to "target specific segments of the population to educate and raise awareness of benefits that can improve their health.”

Press reports last week lauding a $20M PR campaign to defend “Obamacare” molded the advertising-heavy initiative into a political football.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) was among other members of Congress to criticize the PR pact. “There is no justification for wasting $20 million in taxpayer dollars on an advertising blitz for the President’s health care spending law,” Portman said in a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Portman and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) in February asked 11 federal agencies to look at PR contracts to find out “how much money the administration is spending to promote its own policies.”

CMS in early March put out the campaign for bids among its five pre-qualified agencies. Within the expansive Affordable Care Act are provisions to educate the public about changes and expanded benefits.

Another HHS RFP, for the ongoing promotion of electronic health records, was released earlier this month. Ketchum, which has a handful of contracts with HHS and like PN is owned by Omnicom, has worked the e-health record PR beat for the past few years.

Government PR contracts have been a popular target of Congressmen and White House critics over the past decade. Ketchum was dragged through the Armstrong Williams controversy over a PR pact with the Dept. of Education in 2004 and a Pentagon program to dispatch retired military officials for media appearances to promote Bush administration policies was the subject of a General Accountability Office probe.


Grayling notched the job to promote the 2014 Ryder Cup, golf classic, which is slated for the Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire, Scotland.

The Huntsworth unit will develop a program focused on Scotland, the rest of the U.K. and the Continent. It will team with golf PR boutique Landmark Media International to publicize the event scheduled for Sept. 26-28, 2014.

Under the contract with Ryder Cup Europe, Grayling also will set the stage for the 2018 tournament that is slated for Le Golf National in Paris. The Ryder Cup alternates between Europe and the U.S. every two years.

Michael Murphy, CEO of Grayling, believes the win is a testament to the strength of Grayling's network and range of capabilities across Europe.

"As one of the world's premier sporting events we believe that the Ryder Cup's reputation and appeal can be further developed in many ways, leaving a lasting legacy for Scotland and building momentum towards France in 2018," said Murphy in a statement.

The Ryder Cup event has a TV reach of nearly 650M homes.


Matthew Furman, VP of corporate affairs for Mars Chocolate and former head of corporate communications for Google, will join slumping electronics retailer Best Buy Co. next month to lead communications.


The Minneapolis-based company said Furman is set to join June 22 as senior VP, communications and public affairs under interim CEO Mike Mikan. Mikan took the reins in April after the surprise resignation of Brian Dunn amid a probe into his personal conduct and slumping revenues.

Furman takes over for Paula Prahl, who left Best Buy in December for the senior VP, strategy and marketing, slot at Data Recognition Corp.

The 41-year-old Furman, a lawyer, led corporate communications for Google from 2007-10 after top roles at CNN and ChoicePoint. Earlier, he worked political PR as a press secretary for FEMA and New York City's emergency management agency in the late 1990s.

Best Buy employs 167K worldwide. It earned $158M on $11.6B in revenue during the first quarter, ahead of estimates.

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