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13 Firms Make Bids for Arkansas’ $14M Parks & Tourism Ad Business

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Longtime state tourism marketer CJRW is one of 13 advertising firms from several states competing for the state’s largest ad contract, the $14 million-a-year pact for promoting the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism.

Agencies competing for the contract were listed on an Office of State Procurement bid tab document provided by outside sources and confirmed by the Arkansas Department of Finance & Administration.

The state is seeking a single agency to serve Parks & Tourism after nearly two decades of splitting the work between CJRW for “traditional” marketing and Aristotle Inc. of Little Rock for digital services. Aristotle did not bid on the contract, though it handled about $1.5 million of the work in recent years while CJRW handled $11.7 million.

Several Arkansas agencies are competing against CJRW, including Mangan Holcomb Partners/Team SI, the Cranford Co., Stone Ward; Rockfish Interactive; and D&G Collaborative, a limited liability company led by Natalie Ghidotti of Ghidotti Communications, in partnership with Deveney of New Orleans, and registered with the secretary of state’s office on Feb. 9.

Several Little Rock advertising executives said they could not comment because of restrictions in the RFP document.

Out-of-state firms on the list include Birdsall Voss & Associates of Milwaukee, TMAdvertising of Dallas, Advance 360 of New York, Blackboard Marketing of Cincinnati, Pandemic Labs of Boston, The Atkins Group of San Antonio, Texas, and The Zimmerman Agency of Tallahassee, Florida.

Bid solicitations for the contract were halted briefly last month last month when the state procurement office canceled a request for qualification (RFQ) and opened renewed bidding five days later under a different bidding document, a request for proposal (RFP). The change was made so that the state could seek pricing information from ad agencies and make that data a consideration in awarding the contract. The revised bidding documents included an official bid price sheet separate from technical questions.

Marla Johnson, CEO of Aristotle, spoke with Arkansas Business on Wednesday and shared an email informing Parks & Tourism Director Kane Webb and his team that her company wouldn’t be responding to the bid request. “It’s been a grand run!” she concluded, thanking her longtime client and offering Aristotle’s help if it is needed in the future.

“We are grateful to have been a part of the numerous successes experienced by ADPT, including maintaining its position among the top 10 performing tourism websites in the nation throughout its 18-year history with Aristotle,” the email said. Johnson listed several of “many firsts,” including “copious awards for successful and creative integrated campaigns” and “trackable economic success for the department’s tourism partners and the state of Arkansas.” She added that her company will be working at full speed in the remaining months of the current contract. The new contract term begins July 1.

In February, the procurement office revealed a preliminary list of judges expected to evaluate bids for the contract. They are expected to narrow the field to three finalists selected to give oral presentations.

The preliminary judges’ list included several officials of Parks & Tourism, including Cynthia Dunlap, director of central administration; Grady Spann, state parks director; Leah DiPietro, communications manager; and Kristine Puckett, tourism development manager. 

Other judges on the preliminary list included members of the Arkansas State Parks, Recreation & Travel Commission. They are Jim Dailey, commercial real estate broker and former Little Rock mayor; Jim Shamburger, a Hot Springs hotelier; Kalene Griffith, a tourism official in Bentonville; and Mike Wilson, a former Comcast Corp. executive.

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