NIH advertises with `shock jock'

The National Institutes of Health has taken to heart the philosophy that government should act more like a business purchasing drive-time advertising on three local radio stations last week - including during the morning broadcast of "shock jock" Howard Stern - to publicize its ImageWorld and Chief Information Officer Solutions and Partners (CIO-SP) programs.

The 60-second spots scheduled between Monday and Saturday last week described the types of technology and services available through these programs provided the phone number for the program manager and directed listeners to an NIH home page. The ads aired on stations WJFK (106.7 FM) WTOP (1500 AM) and WBIG (100.3 FM) did not mention any specific vendors or products.

Although agencies frequently buy public service announcements and the military has a well-known TV and radio recruiting campaign this may be the first promotion by an agency of its contracting vehicles in the mass media. "As far as I know it has not been done before " said Larry Rosenfeld president of Stackig Advertising and Public Relations McLean Va. which handled the campaign.

"We wanted to make sure people know about it " said Manny De Vera the program manager for both ImageWorld and CIO-SP. "There are a lot of people who listen to radio stations."

De Vera said NIH had promoted an earlier program the Electronic Computer Store by more traditional means and found that although the computer hardware and software contracts had been awarded months ago some potential customers had only recently heard about them.

ImageWorld provides imaging products and services while CIO-SP is a "solutions-based" services program. Both are available to any federal agency.

Other agencies are apparently interested in raising the profile of their procurement programs too. The General Services Administration has hired Stackig to consult on a print marketing campaign for its multiple-award schedules Rosenfeld said.

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Several vendors involved with ImageWorld and CIO-SP said they were delighted NIH had taken the step to advertise the programs. "We think it's great that the government is putting its own resources in " said Steve Grimaldi director for advanced systems development with Universal Hi-Tech Development a Rockville Md. firm that holds contracts with both programs.

"Ads can help bring curious customers to the door " said Brien Lorenze director of strategic marketing with the Jefferson Group a subcontractor to CIO-SP vendor Cordant Inc. If other agencies follow suit he added "it's going to raise the bar further for everybody to offer the very very best vehicle" compared with other procurement programs.

But advertising is not appealing to all agencies. John Ortego director of the GSA Federal Systems Integration and Management Center said Fedsim will not be advertising its integration services schedule. "We depend more upon referrals " he said as is traditional in some industries such as accounting services. "It's the CPA type of approach."

Another federal procurement official who did not want to be identified said he thought the campaign was "bizarre" and questioned whether an agency should advertise in this way given the strict rules about using federal funds for promotions.

De Vera said NIH wanted to inform potential customers of the contracts that the NIH contracting offices are still "open for business" even with the end of the fiscal year approaching. "A lot of contracting offices have cutoff dates " he said. Customers "need to know we're still providing a service."

Rosenfeld said his firm chose the stations based on the demographics of their listeners. The ads were meant to reach federal employees between ages 35 and 44 who are among higher-salaried workers.The mass-market venue was chosen because NIH wanted to attract technology end users rather than technical or contracting personnel who read trade publications Rosenfeld said. The spots ran during traffic and weather reports on all three stations.

David Lipstein director of market development services with Wang Federal Systems which is involved with both programs said NIH appears to have targeted "a good cross section" of listeners because the stations have different audiences. WJFK carries the Stern show WTOP is a news station and WBIG plays oldies music.

De Vera said he did not know how the advertising decisions were made only that he thought those stations were "the most listened to." So far he said the spots appear to have generated enough interest to recoup the cost of the ads through the transaction fee NIH charges customers to process ImageWorld and CIO-SP orders.

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