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CJRW Wins $15M Parks & Tourism Ad Contract

3 min read

Incumbent ad agency CJRW has held onto the state’s richest marketing contract, a highly sought-after $15.2 million-a-year job promoting Arkansas Parks & Tourism.

The Little Rock ad firm, which has had at least a part of the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism account since the 1970s, was announced as the state’s vendor in a posting today on the Arkansas Department of Finance & Administration website.

In a highly confidential state bidding process, CJRW, led by CEO Darin Gray, overcame competition from two other finalists, D&G Collaborative of Little Rock and New Orleans and Birdsall Voss & Associates of Milwaukee. D&G is a partnership between Natalie Ghidotti of Ghidotti Communications in Little Rock and John Deveney of New Orleans, a veteran promoter of that city’s tourism and conventions.

Thirteen advertising agencies, including seven from out of state, submitted proposals for the work to the Office of State Procurement, and expert evaluators narrowed the list to the three firms who made oral pitches to judges on April 24. The potential vendors were under strict orders not to discuss the process, their competitors or details of their proposals.

CJRW had the best weighted technical score of 642.22, compared to 603.65 for D&G and 603.14 for BKV, according to scoring sheets provided by the Office of State Procurement. CJRW also had far and away the best weighted presentation score of 101.69, compared with scores of 76 by D&G and 46 by Birdsall Voss. The grand total score was 943 for CJRW, 793 for D&G and 729 for Birdsall Voss.

CJRW has been praised for its eye-catching and innovative work on the account over four decades, and Arkansas tourism numbers have consistently set records. At the same time, competitors have claimed that CJRW holds an inside track politically in state bidding.

State officials and advertising industry executives said that the state bidding process forbids the competing firms from discussing the process until a contract is signed. The selection of CJRW now awaits approval by state lawmakers.

Among the 10 agencies who were not finalists, Stone Ward of Little Rock had the highest technical proposal score at 588.11; Cranford Co. LLC of Little Rock followed at 567.12.

In the most competitive bid process for the contract in recent memory, the state was seeking a single agency to handle a task that had been split for nearly two decades between CJRW for “traditional” marketing services and Aristotle Inc. for web and digital services.

In the last contract, CJRW handled some $11.7 million of the total annually and Aristotle’s share was about $1.5 million. The $15.2 million in the current contract includes media spending, which means the advertising agency realizes only a portion as revenue. Negotiations on pricing will begin now with the winning vendor, but the state’s budget for the service is largely set.

The scoring in the competition was done by nine evaluators, including former Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey, former Comcast Corp. executive Mike Wilson and several officials at 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 were Kalene Griffith, a tourism official in Bentonville; Ruth Hawkins, director of Arkansas State University’s Heritage Sites, and Jim Shamburger, a Hot Springs hotelier.

See the Proposals

Arkansas Business has obtained agency proposals and judges’ scoring sheets. Many documents, particularly the agency proposals, have been redacted to varying degrees.

Click below to download each.


Score Sheets

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