Mike Rawlings responds to criticism over trail ad campaign

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I just spoke to Mike Rawlings about his role in a trail safety ad campaign that has created a storm of criticism after Brett Shipp reported on it last night.

Rawlings explains that last fall, after the death of runner Lauren Huddleston, he was asked by top parks officials to help with the development of a campaign about trail safety.

Rawlings, a former chief executive of the ad firm TracyLocke, was serving as park board president at that time and had (and still has) major contacts in the industry.

“I said, how are you going to pay for this? And they said we have no money,” he said.

So Rawlings said he recommended parks officials reach out to three firms, TracyLocke, the Richards Group and Jake:Ferguson.

TracyLocke and the Richards Group are major local ad companies. Jake:Ferguson is a start-up run by two close friends of Rawlings who are also very experienced in advertising. Jim Ferguson, a partner in the firm, created the Beef:It’s What’s for Dinner” campaign and the “Nothing but Net” McDonald’s ad.

On Oct. 15, in response to a follow-up e-mail from parks director Paul Dyer, Rawlings said he was “lukewarm” on the Richards Group.

He said he made that determination “when I realized that literally it was zero dollars we had,” he said.

The department ended up contracting with Jake:Ferguson for less than $25,000. The company actually received about $10,000 of that for management fees.

The remainder of the contract paid videographers and other subcontractors, said assistant park director Willis Winters.

The entire cost of the ad campaign was about $80,000, with most of that going to firms that were coordinated by Jake:Ferguson but that worked under separate contracts.

Winters said the value of the campaign was several hundred thousand dollars.

Rawlings, meanwhile, said he wants the city to look into the handling of the contract to determine that everything was done properly.

But he defended his efforts to find a firm to produce the parks ad campaign at reduced cost.

“This is what we need to do in government. That is what frustrates me so much,” he said.

His campaign also issued the following statement:

In an effort to move quickly to create a safety campaign after a runner was killed on the Katy Trail, the Parks Director asked me to recommend ad professionals who might be willing to work pro bono or for dramatically reduced rates. I gave them the name of three agencies.

Jake : Ferguson, which is one of the firms I recommended, offered to do a portion of the work valued at more than $200,000 for only $24,500 – this amount included the out-of-pocket expenses of filming and editing three TV ads, radio ads and a web video, so to get these items for only $24,500 is an unbelievable value for the City. The creative director for Jake : Ferguson is nationally-recognized for creating the Crash Test Dummies seatbelt campaign for the U.S. Department of Transportation, and to get this level of experience for our safety campaign was a win for the Parks Department.

I was not involved in awarding them this business, negotiating the cost or the contracts. Those issues are between the firms involved and the City officials responsible for those duties.

It is important to note that Jake : Ferguson was one of five firms who contributed to this campaign. I am not familiar with the other four firms who did the majority of the work, so to accuse me of doling out work to friends is just not truthful. It also is unfortunate that corporate citizens who were willing to step up and donate their services to the City during a time of crisis are now being dragged into the negative attacks of a mayoral campaign.

Nonetheless, the City has a duty to taxpayers and citizens to look into this and make sure that there is complete transparency and that all laws were obeyed.

–Rudolph Bush / Reporter

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