Following the dots | Arkansas Blog

Following the dots

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I learned today that Central Arkansas Water had decided to change ad/PR representation.

Heathcott Associates had been handling the work. But at a recent commission meeting, after winnowing a number of applicants, the Commission decided to hire Advantage Communications for ad and PR work and to hire Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods to work on policy development.

I don't know if the operative word is "irony," but there's an interesting connection in the decision. Advantage is headed by Michael Steele. He's the brother of Sen. Tracy Steele, who sided with Sen. Bob Johnson and other forces of darkness in the 2005 legislative session to attempt to strip CAW of its ability to effectively manage the Lake Maumelle watershed. Perhaps his brother can persuade him to be a little friendlier to the utility's interest in the future.

Graham Rich, CEO of the water utility, said Advantage was chosen strictly on merit. "They made a very good presentation with a lot of good ideas." He was aware of the family relationship. "We don't view it as a detriment. In fact, it could be an avenue to get in and see what the issues are with him [Tracy Steele] and try to win him over to our side." But he quickly added that wasn't a consideration in the hiring decision.

Advantage is one of the few minority ad and PR firms in the state and has reaped a significant amount of state set-aside work for minority contractors on state ad and public relations accounts. Just today, in fact Advantage announced another state contract, this one with DHS. Some of those advertising campaigns have purchased ads in Senator Steele's newspaper, Stand News. Steele made headlines recently for failing to report his newspaper's state business.

ADVANTAGE COMMUNICATIONS NEWS RELEASE

As a response to the problems and social costs of delinquent behavior among central Arkansas youth, the Arkansas Department of Human Services is engaging a leading local marketing agency to influence the culture and communication of area teens.  The Department's Division of Youth Services and the Arkansas Coalition for Juvenile Justice have awarded a grant to Advantage Communications, Inc. (ACI) of Little Rock for a decidedly non-traditional approach.

Advantage Communications received the grant following a competitive review process.  The grant will be used for school-based programs, aggressive community relations efforts featuring popular radio personalities, and a media communications program.  Planning for the six-month pilot program will begin in July, with school-based programs launching in September and program evaluation in early 2009.
 
"Our program is a non-traditional approach to behavior modification," explained Michael Steele, CEO of Advantage Communications.  "Given the culture surrounding 'thuggish' behavior, an aggressive and non-traditional approach is needed.  We will use role models and peers to begin changing the conversation about delinquency--and persuade young Arkansans to earn real respect by making better decisions." 
 
Advantage Communications has executed successful marketing campaigns championing behavior modifications. These efforts include tobacco counter-marketing for the Stamp Out Smoking campaign and a colon screening campaign for Arkansas Diagnostic Center.
 
“Now is the time for preventative strategies that engage young people in a relevant way – before they become part of the Juvenile Justice System,” stated Steve Jones, Deputy Director of the Department of Human Services. “This pilot program targeting young people through their peers and the media is a unique effort for DYS. We were impressed with the plan from Advantage Communications and are eager to partner with them to achieve positive outcomes for our youth.”
 
The grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is part of a larger, annual granting process for local organizations and businesses. 

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