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HomeMiscellanyCity hall hires ad agency to sell empty homes tax, despite bloated spin department

City hall hires ad agency to sell empty homes tax, despite bloated spin department


Bob Mackin 

Vancouver city hall is spending $55,000 on an advertising agency to promote the new 1% empty homes tax. 

Vancouver city hall’s ad campaign for the 1% empty homes tax includes a YouTube ad. (City of Vancouver)

Now Communications Group, the city’s biggest and oldest left-wing ad agency, was chosen for the contract from a shortlist of four shops, theBreaker has learned. This, despite the 42 people directly employed in the communications department at city hall. 

City hall delayed the disclosure of Now to theBreaker by three weeks. 

After she was contacted by theBreaker on Nov. 7 — the day after empty homes tax ads debuted on YouTube — city communications director Rena Kendall-Craden refused to release the information. The contract had been awarded in October. theBreaker was told that the identity of the contractor would be released “within two weeks” as part of a quarterly procurement report. 

theBreaker inquired again on Nov. 28 and the information was finally released. 

Other bidders for the gig included Camp Pacific, LMP Publication and Traction Creative Communications. While Camp and Traction are traditional ad agencies, LMP is a division of Glacier Media, the publisher of the Vancouver Courier and Business in Vancouver. 

Bid documents say the campaign’s overarching goal is to raise awareness of the tax and educate residential property owners of the Feb. 2, 2018 declaration deadline. 

Owners of class 1 residential properties are the primary audience. The secondary audience is “owners who do not speak English and residential property owners who are unfamiliar with the digital environment.”

“The city’s approach that requires all residential property owners to make a property status declaration is a new process that is not well understood by the public,” said the bid document. “A commonly held misconception is that only owners of second homes, or homeowners whose properties are vacant, are required to make a property status declaration. This campaign aims to address these misconceptions and raise awareness of the requirement to declare by communicating key EHT and declaration messaging to the public through paid media channels.”

Now was formed by members of Mike Harcourt’s campaign team after the NDP won the 1991 provincial election. Its staff roster includes Mayor Gregor Robertson’s speechwriter Rob Cottingham and vice-president of operations Michele Della Mattia. Her sister, Marie, is a special advisor to Premier John Horgan after working as deputy chief of staff on the NDP’s 2017 election campaign. 

The city estimates it will cost $7.4 million over three years to start the tax collection. It was originally estimated at $4.7 million. 

A staff report optimistically estimated that collection of the 1% tax from 740 properties worth $1 million each would pay for the program. 

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