Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Retroactive $378,000 Edelman PR Contract

The California stem cell agency on Friday is likely to approve a $378,000 annual public relations contract with Edelman, the world's largest independent PR firm.

Going rates for help at Edelman range from $450 an hour for Gail Becker, president of the Edelman's western region, to $70 an hour for unidentified interns. Adam Silber, an Edelman vice president who has been listed as a contact on the CIRM website, goes for $240 an hour.

Compare that to the $43 hourly rate for Nicole Pagano, who is a state government employee and the lead contact at CIRM since April. She and Silber appeared on the scene about the same time.

Of course, Pagano's $90,000 annual salary as senior communications specialist does not include the cost of fringe benefits or a profit, both of which are presumably included in Edelman's rates.

Edelman's responsibilities seem fairly routine, but CIRM seems to be still struggling with making its PR work routine, even with Edelman's help during the last four months. A well-run organization performs most of its work in a routine fashion. If there are major hoohas over regular tasks, an organization is going to be hard-pressed to deal with more difficult issues.

The scope of Edelman's work includes preparing media kits, maintaining contact lists, prepping CIRM officials on media interviews, writing stem cell research backgrounders, dealing with the web site and so forth.

Oddly, Edelman's work does not seem to involve much specifically with radio and TV, which is where most of the public gets its news. In fact, the words "radio" and "television" or "TV" are not even mentioned in the Edelman "scope" document although letters to the editor and editorials are specifically cited. Attention to TV and radio is even more important, given the relative novelty of stem cell issues to the bulk of the public. Some polls show favorable opinion concerning stem cell research, but you can bet most persons would have difficulty describing a stem cell or potential benefits of research. The next few years offer a prime opportunity to shape public opinion when it is most malleable -- when an issue is relatively new and beliefs have not been locked down.

The Edelman contract does not include any Web site construction expenses, although it is the project manager for the site redesign, nor does it include major printing costs. Media kits, FAQs, etc., will have to be printed at additional cost in addition to posting on the CIRM web site.

Approval of the contract by the Oversight Committee will formalize a relationship with Edelman that began in April following an unannounced selection process for PR firms. Losing out in the process were Weber Shandwick Worldwide and Burston-Marsteller.

Earlier Jeff Sheehy, a communications specialist at UC San Francisco who serves on the oversight board, said the size of the Edelman contract was "appalling." He questioned whether the institute was getting anything for its money.

CIRM is requiring weekly reports from Edelman on its accomplishments. But filing paper work is no substitute for diligent oversight and direction. It remains to be seen whether Edelman can produce a record that is better than its first four months as the stem cell agency's PR firm.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:54 AM

    Interesting how Bob Klein manages to misstep every possible time (read: ICOC Board Meeting).
    The issue of a public bidding process had already come up when selecting SpencerStuart back in January, and he had been asked at that time why and when the PR contract would be bid out and there were phony excuses why they WILL not (Amy Lewis et al: "Personal service contract, no bidding needed").
    In comparison to the HR search, where he essentially used the public forum to get the best possible price (prestigious project), in this case he decided to not save money through public bidding.
    Along that line it is fascinating to note that Edelman gets travel reimbursed. There would be less travel if the agency had actual healthcare people and they would be in SF.
    Finally, Adam Silber had been identified as being with the CIRM, but now appears to be Edelman. That is somewhat a violation of the ethical code of conduct for agencies, but probably a cover up for the contract retroactively starting in April and only requesting approval now (which is also a violation of UC code of conduct that Klein claims to adhere to).

    Look out of the next accounting reports, wait for GAO getting on the case of CIRM. More fun to come!


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