ICA calls for boycott of Elections BC agency review

Elections BC is the latest marketer to draw fire from the Institute of Communication Agencies over its search for a creative AOR.

The ICA Pitch Watch is calling for agencies to boycott the search because Elections BC is asking for free speculative work as part of the agency review and, according to the ICA, says it will retain ownership of any ideas put forward by pitching agencies.

“Yet again we see a client asking for agencies to spend time creating ideas in a vacuum and for free,” said ICA president and CEO Scott Knox in a release. “That it is a publicly funded body makes this worse. On the one hand, the B.C Government funds the education of thousands of people looking to work in the creative industries, but with the other expects them to work for free to win their creative business.”

The ICA had several discussions with Elections BC about the RFP, which was issued April 1, but Elections BC declined to make any changes because the procurement process was already underway. “To date Elections BC have refused any of our advice and declared their intent to continue as they see fit,” Knox told The Message.

ICA created Pitch Watch (originally known as Pitch Watchdog) as a way to call out marketers making what it considered unfair and unreasonable demands of agencies pitching for their business. In the past, ICA has called for boycotts of reviews by Canada Post, YMCA Canada and tobacco company JTI.

Asked if agencies were boycotting the Elections BC review, Knox said he was “not aware of the agencies taking part in the final stage, if that shortlist has been created.”

Both Elections BC and the Ministry of Citizens’ Services, which is running the review, confirmed the RFP asked agencies to present “creative samples,” and that the B.C. government has done so with other ad agency reviews in the past.

“Shortlisted proponents will be invited to conduct a presentation and will be evaluated on their creativity and capabilities,” said Andrew Watson, director, communications for Elections BC in an email to The Message. “This is a common step when determining the qualifications for any successful proponent, and has been used successfully in three previous procurements for similar services at Elections BC.”

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Citizens’ Services also said the requirements for spec were part of three other reviews for government advertising and communications.

“Government looks for innovative ideas and solutions in our procurement bids and creative samples are important part of this process. This is a common step when determining the qualifications for any successful proponent for this type of service,” said a Ministry spokesperson. “This information helps government understand the quality of materials that are going to be produced, assess the creative capability of the agencies, and ensure the desired outcome will be met.”

According to the ICA, the RFP also states that “All proposals and other records submitted to the Province in relation to the RFP become the property of the Province…”

Asked specifically about ownership of any ideas presented by pitching agencies, the spokesperson said that, “all records submitted to the Province in relation to request for proposals are retained according to records management and Freedom Of information (FOI) policy.” However, they also said that the government “does not reserve ownership of ideas/samples from vendors.” * 

“These are completely contradictory and point to a lack of clarity and professionalism being used in running this agency search,” said Knox.

The Ministry said it is required to retain procurement records, including any creative ideas, “for a period of time,” but those records can’t be shared with other vendors or used by the government.

“We may be asked to provide our records through a Freedom of Information request,” said the Ministry in an email to The Message. “However, the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act prohibits government from disclosing records that contain information that would harm the competitive position of a private business. For example, unpublished creative content that is submitted as part of a procurement would be considered proprietary and confidential to the vendor.”

The expectation of providing speculative creative has long been sore spot for ad agencies in Canada, who resent having to provide their product for free. In the past couple of years, the ICA has proposed replacing traditional agency review models with a qualification-based selection search process, putting the focus on competency and qualifications.

“The ICA team has proposed qualification-based selection as the approach that Elections BC should take, a search process that requires no speculative work,” said the ICA release. “It asks if the agency partner is qualified for the task and can show how it can replicate the success of previous work.”

*This story has been updated with a response from the B.C. government about retaining spec work.

Photo by Parsa Mivehchi on Unsplash

David Brown