by Max Brantley
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.