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State Keeps Tight Lid on Tourism Finalists

2 min read

Did you see that announcement about the three finalists chosen for the state’s richest advertising contract — the $14 million-a-year pact for marketing the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism?

Neither did anybody else.

No announcement was made, and the state won’t be naming the three agencies picked to make oral presentations until it chooses a winner. The news lid is tight, with state bidding documents defining loose talk as a disqualifying offense.

Still, whispers among advertising pros suggest that CJRW, the incumbent firm with decades of experience handling the account, is one of the contenders. Another appears to be D&G Collaborative, a partnership between Natalie Ghidotti of Ghidotti Communications in Little Rock and John Deveney of New Orleans, who handles marketing for the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The third finalist is likely to be one of seven out-of-state firms, advertising sources say. Some of the big names on that list include Birdsall Voss of Milwaukee, TM Advertising of Dallas, The Atkins Group of San Antonio and The Zimmerman Agency of Florida.

The state is seeking a single agency after decades of splitting the Parks & Tourism work between CJRW and the digital firm Aristotle Inc. of Little Rock. In the last contract, CJRW handled $11.7 million of the annual total to Aristotle’s $1.5 million. Aristotle chose not to compete for the work this time.

Jake Bleed, aforementioned spokesman for the Office of State Procurement, said by email that the state would not “disclose the finalists” nor notify firms that didn’t make the cut — annoying several ad executives, including one who said a heads-up would have been nice “just as a signal to go on with other work.”

Bleed said the state’s technical evaluation committee had scored initial proposals on a scale of 696 points, and the three highest scorers will give presentations worth a maximum of 104 points.

“After that, the costs of the three proposals will be scored,” Bleed said, with 200 points possible. “To determine the winning proposal, we’ll add the three components — technical score, presentation, cost.” Vendor names will not be released until a victor is announced. “This is following the requirements of the code, for what it’s worth,” he said.

Time is short; the contract is scheduled for review by the Arkansas Legislative Council for 30 days before taking effect July 1, the beginning of fiscal 2018.

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