The advert conveys a dire message about the coronavirus, with a hospital monitor beeping, two men in hospital beds receiving oxygen and a voiceover warning of another flare-up.
An emotional nurse shakes her head.
“The hospitals are full. People are really sick,” intones the narrator. “Get tested. Get vaccinated. Get boosted. Please help our healthcare workers.
Sending an effective message about the pandemic can save lives. And that can be a big deal. Albuquerque marketing and web design firm Real Time Solutions and its contractors will receive nearly $50 million for advertising and other communications for about two years of the coronavirus pandemic, according to records from the state.
The often-run ad recently cost the state Department of Health about $1.4 million for production and media placement, the state agency said. Real Time Solutions, which is credited for the publicity, has received praise from state officials for its work during the pandemic.
The Albuquerque-based company’s myriad tasks for the state include developing websites for COVID-19 testing, statistics, updates, recording vaccinations and tracking inventory — as well as producing commercial – for the purpose of communicating with the public via digital media, social media, newspapers, television, radio and billboards.
Dr. David Scrase, Acting Secretary of the Department of Health, and others expressed satisfaction with the efforts of Real Time Solutions.
“I’m not a marketing expert,” Scrase said in an interview last week. “But I’m happy with the messages I’ve seen.”
But success did not come without examination. Real Time Solutions was also mentioned in a legislative report written last fall that questions state procurement practices in emergencies like the pandemic, as well as the fact that advertising contracts in general do not require no in-state bidding.
The Legislative Finance Committee report cited problems in the state procurement process for goods and services. He said the pandemic has resulted in “more sole-source and emergency purchases than ever before”.
He also noted that much of the emergency spending “was less than an overall emergency supply of $200 million authorized by the governor.” The Ministry of Health received the majority, the report says, and although emergency procurement measures for this crisis were halted in mid-2021, some contracts and orders continued that were already in place. .
Nora Meyers Sackett, spokesperson for Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, wrote in an email message that “in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, the collaboration between the state and Real Time Solutions has saved new Mexican lives and was an integral part of our state-leading COVID-19 response.
Real Time Solutions annoyed some New Mexico ad reps when the company used Austin, Texas-based Idea Peddler as one of its contractors.
The state and Real Time Solutions have won “national awards” for New Mexico’s immunization rate, said Gabe Gallegos, president of the American Advertising Federation-New Mexico, who added that the Texas-based company is “making a really amazing work”.
But Gallegos said how that pile of advertising money was distributed is a mystery to him.
“I would tell you that a lot of people are wondering, for example, how does this process work? ” he said. “Where are the checks and balances there?”
Some in the advertising industry were unhappy with the contract with Idea Peddler. Jory Rosen, executive director of the American Advertising Federation-New Mexico, said he was unfamiliar with Idea Peddler’s situation but knew “too much work was going out of state. and added that New Mexico has an excellent group of marketing and advertising agencies.
“The competition here is phenomenal,” he said. “The creativity here is phenomenal.”
Scrase said the state has price agreements with companies that can be used quickly in an emergency. This allowed Real Time Solution to select the urgent creation of websites and other elements to help track data and inform the public of masking and distancing recommendations.
Marisa Maez, a state spokeswoman, wrote in an email that the Department of Health contracted with Real Time Solutions for “multiple efforts” in rapid response to the COVID-19 crisis. A few months later, the state expanded the company’s work to include marketing during the pandemic, she added.
Maez said Real Time Solutions has helped New Mexico gain recognition for its relatively high vaccination rates. She pointed to a story in the New York Times last year, which called New Mexico “a pioneer in vaccination thanks to decisive political decisions, local technology and cooperation”.
In early February, New Mexico was among the top 12 to 14 states (tied with Colorado and Oregon) in percentage of fully vaccinated residents, the Time’ said the vaccination tracking program.
Maez said the money allocated to Real Time Solutions came from federal sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Pamela Blackwell, director of policy and communications for the New Mexico Hospital Association, which serves on a state COVID-19 marketing advisory board, also praised the employees of Real Time Solutions.
“They work hard, I can tell you that,” she said.
Blackwell said the expense of real-time solutions and its contractors was worth it.
“What is the cost of misinformation? ” she asked. His answer: lives, hospital resources, societal division and exhausted healthcare workers.
Chris Schroeder, chief operating officer of Real Time Solutions, said the company is “tremendously proud” of its contributions to the state effort. He wrote in an email that the Albuquerque-based company “has worked tirelessly to help the state ensure the safety and well-being of New Mexicans.”
Schroeder said Real Time Solutions has provided website support and other services for the Department of Health for more than 20 years and has established a strong track record. He said the company has a statewide pricing agreement that saves state and local governments money and does not require a request for proposals when services are needed.
The company’s contract with the Ministry of Health runs until mid-2022. Maez said the Department of Health will send out a request for proposals to marketing companies this year for a multi-year contract.
Changing the process
Micaela Fischer, staff member of the Legislative Finance Committee, said procurement has long been an issue for lawmakers.
“The Legislative Assembly has been preoccupied with purchases for some time,” Fischer said in an interview. “And advertising has long been exempt from the public procurement code.”
State Sen. Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque, introduced a bill during the current 30-day session to address some of the purchasing and supply issues. But he said Senate Bill 114 will not move forward in this short session, although he will introduce it again next year in the 60-day session.
Schroeder said his company has both a state price agreement and an agreement with the Federal General Services Administration. “These established supply agreements are a benefit to taxpayers and save governments significant amounts of money,” he wrote.
Schroeder wrote that he “assembled a team of professionals I trust and know I can deliver for the State of New Mexico.” He said that in addition to Idea Peddler, he has also contracted with Albuquerque-based company Lavendr as well as Momentum Santa Fe.
He declined to say how much money the contractors received, and Idea Peddler referred questions to Schroeder.
Schroeder said Idea Peddler does not have an office in New Mexico, but is registered with the state Department of Taxes and Revenue for tax purposes.
Gallegos of the National Advertising Federation said New Mexico companies “really want to encourage a competitive process.” He said he wanted to know how state ad agencies could compete fairly.
Blackwell said the Department of Health has assembled a health care marketing advisory board that aims to promote “a clear and unified message” about the pandemic, vaccinations and other things. The committee meets via Zoom weekly for 45 minutes and has worked so well that it intends to work on other public service projects, she said, such as mental health.
Blackwell said of the money that went to Real Time Solutions and its contractors, it’s “no small effort” to build websites, vaccination registration portals, text messaging and marketing.
“They’re really creating it and building it at the same time,” she said. Idea Peddler has also done its part, she added.
“Austin or not,” she added, “they’ve served New Mexico very well.”