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Reality check: Mad Men are always election winners

There is an Adrian Raeside cartoon from the early 1990s about election campaign advertising. It depicts one person shouting "My party won!" Another character sheepishly says: "My party lost."

But a man at a desk sits with a wry smile. "My party's just beginning," he says.

Behind him is a sign that reads "Advertising Agency."

So it goes. Political parties rely on advertising agencies during elections to carry their message to the masses. And advertising agencies rely on the party in power to award them contracts. Nowhere is that more true than in British Columbia, which lacks the quantity of corporate head offices that Toronto and Calgary boast.

Yawning '90s

The advertising industry is a barometer of the economy, and it was already showing the 1990s were going to be a difficult decade before the NDP was elected to govern British Columbia in October 1991.

Eastern Europe was learning about its newfound freedoms and the Chinese democracy movement was shattered after Tiananmen Square. The United States had already ejected Iraq from Kuwait in the first Gulf War.

B.C. and the rest of the world were three years away from being thrust into a global technological change with the commercialization of the Internet and the proliferation of mobile communications.

A group of advertising agencies in Vancouver experienced falling revenues because clients were leaving B.C. to set-up shop in Calgary and Toronto. The Advertising Agency Association of B.C. was born as the umbrella for a group of companies that decided to combine forces and market their services outside the province to stem the client erosion.

A front page story in the Oct. 7, 1991 edition of Marketing Magazine, the Canadian ad industry's trade weekly, said: "Murmurs of discontent over the client erosion -- Canadian Airlines International and IKEA are the most cited examples of local business gone elsewhere -- have been building for years. But the Century 21 loss, which ends a seven-year relationship between the real-estate firm and McCann Erickson here, gave new cause for concern. (McCann eventually laid off eight people when it also lost the B.C. General Motors Dealers and Nintendo of Canada).

"It was just another example of a significant piece of business going out of the market," says Graham Catchlove, vice-president and general manager of J. Walter Thompson, and a prime backer of AAABC's new offensive strategy.

"That's happened a lot over the last couple of years or so, and the market here is shrinking."

PJ saw opportunity in change

The Marketing story quoted Frank Palmer, whose Palmer Jarvis advertising agency was the biggest in B.C. PJ had the $1 million Elections BC ad campaign for the 1991 election, so it stayed on the sidelines but opened a Victoria office soon after the NDP knocked the Social Credit Party out of power.

In early 1992, the NDP government was accused of breaking its open, public tendering of government contracts and anti-patronage campaign promises when a $400,000 contract for a Commission on Resources and Environment campaign was awarded to Now Communications Group.

The new ad shop included NDP strategists Shane Lunny, Ron Johnson and Karl Struble, a Washington, D.C. strategist. It was not an open call: four other companies were invited to pitch. The choice of Now gave Liberal critic Ron Jones a chance to accuse the NDP of patronage. "It's almost like they're being paid off," Jones said of Now's principals.

Government Services minister Lois Boone denied the accusations and said the contract was awarded on merit.

Ad agencies affiliated with the Socreds, including McKim and Baker Lovick, VRH Communication, JWT, McCann Erickson and Dome were antsy. With the pre-NDP exodus of big accounts, they feared losing a chance to bid on the third biggest advertiser in the province.

The government spent $8,838.6 million on ads (of which $5,537.3 million were on TV and $2,085.3 million in newspapers). Only Thomson Group and Procter and Gamble spent more.

The market experienced further upheaval, as McKim and Baker Lovick/BBDO merged. More people were deemed redundant. But PJ stayed on top with $10 million of gross revenue.

Two of British Columbia's most-storied companies, bearing names of pioneering business families, were in their final decade of business as they knew it.

The 1892-founded Woodward's Department Stores went bankrupt in 1993 and select locations were plucked by Toronto-based Hudson's Bay Co. MacMillan Bloedel's plans to expand coastal logging on the mainland and Vancouver Island were approved by government, but thwarted by protests, including the campaign to protect Clayoquot Sound in 1993. Seattle-based Weyerhaueser bought Mac-Blo in 1999.

The global economy was shaken in 1997 by the Asian economic crisis, which was traced to the 1996 collapse of the Bangkok Bank of Commerce. A key player named Rakesh Saxena had fled to Vancouver in 1996 and was later accused of being part of a $2.2 billion embezzlement scheme.

Vancouver hosted the 1997 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit at the University of B.C. As Bill Clinton, Jean Chretien, China's Hu Jintao, Indonesia's Suharto and others discussed privatization at the Museum of Anthropology, protesting students outside were pepper-sprayed and arrested by RCMP officers.

The Canadian dollar slid to 67 cents U.S. in 1998, which helped the film and TV production industry grow, but the NBA Vancouver Grizzlies, Molson Indy auto race and Air Canada Championship PGA golf tournament eventually left the city.

In flux

With the economy and, specifically, the mainstream media in flux, the NDP increased government ad spending to $17.305 million in 1993-1994 and $28.358 million in 1994-1995, the fiscal year before the election. Spending settled down to $21.381 million in 2000-2001, before Gordon Campbell and the BC Liberals took over with promises of busting wasteful spending.

They delivered a degree of austerity for the first three fiscal years of their mandate, but the budgeted $12.108 million in 2004-2005 was actually $21.617 million spent before Campbell won his first re-election.

Campbell's last fiscal year in power was 2009-2010 and the Liberals spent $17.5 million. But the next two years would be record setters under his successor, Christy Clark. The $34.5 million for 2011-2012 was followed by $29.5 million in 2012-2013 in the last fiscal year before the election.

A major Clark focus was the BC Jobs Plan, which featured a $17 million pre-election push that the NDP seized upon.

It gave leader Adrian Dix an easy plank for his party's platform. If the NDP wins, he promised to ban pre-election, partisan advertising four months before the next election. He even proposed following Ontario's lead and relying on the Auditor General to approve government advertising campaigns.

Liberal reorganization

The government's agency of record contracts, which expired July 31, 2010, were replaced with a standing offer system for a roster of six agencies: Traction Creative, TBWA, Grey, Cossette, Rethink and DDB, the product of a 1998 merger between DDB Canada and Palmer Jarvis.

Two of the government's biggest suppliers, according to the 2011-12 public accounts, were media buyer Vizeum Canada ($15,375,670) and DDB ($3,368,273).

For the year ended March 31, 2012, DDB was paid $11,669,980 from BC Hydro and $2,368,845 for work with B.C. Lottery Corporation and $392,690 from B.C. Pavilion Corporation. Its Karacters division was paid $472,463 from PavCo.

DDB Canada, a division of Omnicom, made $14,176 in donations from 2005 to 2012. Palmer's name is attached to $3,400 between 2005 and 2008.

Palmer was appointed to the board of PavCo in summer 2012 and his company has not received any recent contracts since then. The Crown corporation's chairman is Langley Mayor Peter Fassbender, who was second-in-command at PJ in the early 1990s and a friend of Deputy Premier Rich Coleman.

Fassbender is also a prominent member of the Christian Life Assembly church in Langley and a Liberal candidate in Surrey-Fleetwood against NDP's Jagrup Brar. Fassbender opted not to step aside as chair of PavCo during the campaign, despite Public Service Agency conflict of interest rules.

Across the Fraser River in Coquitlam, Steven Kim is carrying the Liberal banner. Kim is president of the B.C. Chapter of the American Marketing Association and owns the Boilingpoint Group agency.

The Liberals are also partnering with one of B.C.'s star companies, Invoke Media, for an Ask Christy interactive website. Invoke's Memelabs division is handling the promotion. If you haven't heard of Memelabs and you use Twitter, then you've probably heard of the company's HootSuite division.

Liberal campaign strategist Don Millar was previously a Gregor Robertson advisor, which is notable because the Adrian Dix campaign managed by Brian Topp follows a similar script to the victorious 2011 Vision Vancouver strategy. Be positive amid the onslaught of attack ads, and oppose an increase in oil tanker traffic.

Bob Mackin was the Vancouver staff writer for Marketing magazine from 1990 to 1994.

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