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HomeMiscellanyExclusive: NDP friendly ad agency behind Horgan budget campaign

Exclusive: NDP friendly ad agency behind Horgan budget campaign

Bob Mackin

The Vancouver advertising agency that helped the NDP regain power in British Columbia last year has the contract for a $600,000 campaign to promote the Horgan government’s 2018 provincial budget.

theBreaker confirmed that the Government Communications and Public Engagement office chose Now Communications Group from a list of preferred suppliers. The campaign launched Feb. 28, eight days after Finance Minister Carole James tabled the budget. It runs through March 18. 

A prepared statement from the ministry’s communications office, provided to theBreaker, said: “All agencies on the standing offers list had the opportunity to submit a bid for this work. The Now Communications Group bid was accepted based upon our standing offer proposal process which includes pre-determined evaluation criteria.”

GCPE spent $663,000 to promote the BC Liberals’ pre-2017 election budget and $773,000 to promote the party’s 2016 tax-and-spend blueprint.  

Marie Della Mattia (left), Robb Gibbs and Michele Della Mattia.

The NDP-appointed assistant deputy minister of strategic communications is former Now creative director Robb Gibbs. Gibbs oversees the government’s advertising and marketing office. Gibbs did not respond for comment. 

Deputy Minister Evan Lloyd did respond, but declined an interview request.

“The Now Group is one of 10 firms that secured a place on GCPE’s standing offer list, effective Jan. 1,” Lloyd said by email. “In anticipation of this start-work date, a standing offer proposal request was issued to all 10 firms [on the Jan. 1-effective preferred suppliers’ list] relating to the Feb. 20 provincial budget and its specific housing and child care components.

“This SOPR was issued in late December with a decision made in early January. It was anticipated, due to the extensive nature of this SOPR, a minimum of two firms would be selected. In fact, three firms were selected from this SOPR: Captus, NOW, and Trapeze. Their work is ongoing.”

Gibbs’s wife, Marie Della Mattia, was Now’s CEO until 2016 when she left to become John Horgan’s campaign advisor. After Horgan was sworn-in last July, the new premier hired Della Mattia to be his special advisor for $30,000, but she left in mid-January. Her LinkedIn profile describes Della Mattia’s self-employment as a coach “with attitude.” Her sister, Michele Della Mattia, is Now’s vice-president of operations. theBreaker exclusively reported Jan. 8 that Now was among 16 advertising and advertising research companies chosen for a three-year roster of pre-qualified suppliers. 

Now was established at the end of 1991, by Ron Johnson and Shane Lunny from the team that helped Mike Harcourt become B.C.’s second NDP premier. 

Now’s $165,000 contract in March 1992 for the Commission on Resources and Environment was the Harcourt government’s first scandal. Johnson co-wrote the party’s 1991 platform, which bluntly stated that a “Harcourt government will put an end to secret deals and special favours for political friends.” 

In May 1995, Auditor General George Morfitt reported that the NDP government spent $21.3 million on contracts with 10 ad agencies over four years, but Now was the top supplier at $4.8 million. Despite Now’s close ties with Harcourt, Morfitt surprised the ad industry by finding no pattern of favouritism. He was, however, “perturbed” that Now concealed the names and amounts paid to some of its subcontractors from the U.S.

The Horgan NDP government is using a system of prequalified companies for advertising contracts inherited from the BC Liberals. Otherwise, government procurement rules set $25,000 as the floor for a competitive process through advertising on BC Bid or obtaining three quotes. A public call for proposals is mandatory if a service contract is worth $75,000 or more. 

NDP ad agency Now Communications Group.

The BC Liberals spent $20 million on the controversial “Our Opportunity Is Here” B.C. services campaign, which sparked a class action lawsuit that ultimately wants the party to repay the public treasury. Two of the agencies contracted were owned by BC Liberal party campaign workers and friends of then-Premier Christy Clark. When the non-essential campaign launched in November 2015, then-opposition leader Horgan slammed the BC Liberals for “padding the pockets of their political pals.”

The NDP promised it would ban partisan advertising by the government and that it would empower the auditor general to approve or reject ad campaigns. 

The NDP budget ad campaign is the most-important, so far, from a strategic standpoint. But it is not the most-expensive. 

The StopOverdoseBC ad campaign through Traction Creative, Vizeum and Jungle Media is costing $2 million. The NDP government also ran a $300,000 campaign through St. Bernadine Mission and Captus Advertising to promote the “How We Vote” public comment period for electoral system reform. 

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