UM assailed for seeking out-of-state marketing firm

$6.5 million account held by city firm is in jeopardy

August 04, 2004|By Andrea K. Walker and Stacey Hirsh | Andrea K. Walker and Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

A local advertising trade association is criticizing the University of Maryland University College for choosing an out-of-state agency to run its $6.5 million marketing account.

The Advertising Association of Baltimore argues in a letter to University College President Gerald A. Heeger that the contract should be awarded to a local company because the school is a public institution financed by state taxes.

University College, with headquarters in Adelphi, provides undergraduate and graduate degrees to adult part-time students.

"It sends absolutely the worst message to the business community," said James B. Astrachan, the ad association's president. "The message is, you can't get it from Maryland. You have to go somewhere else."

University College officials declined yesterday to discuss what agency they were recommending to take over the contract now held by Carton Donofrio Partners Inc., a Baltimore advertising firm.

The firm has had the contract for nearly five years and remains under contract with the university for the next several months. "They're our client," said Chuck Donofrio, the ad agency's CEO. "We love them, and we hope to continue working with them."

The new contract must be approved by the state Board of Public Works, whose members are Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp.

The Board of Public Works could vote on the contract as early as next week.

Local advertising executives said they were told Grey Direct of New York was University College's first choice. Grey Direct would not confirm if it was chosen.

"It was a very fair process that followed the guidelines set in front of us," said David Freeman, a University College spokesman.

Schaefer, who was sent a copy of the Baltimore ad association's letter, said yesterday that he supported the local advertising representatives.

"This is not right, this is wrong," he said. "We have a habit of going out of state on things we could do in-state with corporations of our own."

Schaefer said awarding the contract out of state discourages Maryland firms from bidding on local projects. They think they won't get the contract anyway, so why bother bidding, he said.

On the other hand, other states may feel that if Maryland does not welcome out-of-state bidders, they shouldn't have to either, Schaefer said.

University College is not legally bound to hire a Maryland company to run its marketing campaign. But Astrachan said the state's advertising contracts typically go to local companies.

Eisner Communications in Baltimore, for instance, has the Maryland State Lottery Agency's contract and GKV Communications in Baltimore has the state's tourism account.

Turning to an out-of-state agency has a direct impact on the local economy, said Richard P. Clinch, director of economics for the Maryland Business Research Partnership, a University of Baltimore think tank.

"There's a direct economic effect," Clinch said. "If you send a dollar to New York, all that money is going to be spent by people in New York, not people in Maryland. So Maryland taxpayers are footing the bill for an expenditure that's going to New York."

Still, University College is a business with many of its students from out of state. The decision to choose a New York firm was a business decision, Clinch said, likely based on which ad agency best met certain criteria. It benefits taxpayers to spend money so it best meets the schools needs, he said.

"We don't want them to make seemingly bad decisions to spend money locally," Clinch said.

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