Gregor Robertson hands $50,000 no-bid contract to political insiders


The Mayor tries to remember FD Element, who have been working for him for years

Wednesday night’s TV schedule was spiced up by the opening story on GlobalTV News. Reporter Marisa Thomas in another crack piece of journalism uncovered a no-bid contract handed to key Vision Vancouver insiders FD Element, a company whose Vancouver office is run by Don Millar and Mike Wilson. Both Millar and Wilson have been working with Gregor Robertson’s office and with the Vision Vancouver party doing media strategy and image management for the hapless Mayor.

Not long ago we reported how Don Millar’s name was on the registration for "mayorofvancouver.ca" – the address of Gregor Robertson’s blog. That is until CityCaucus.com conducted a freedom of information request on who was the domain registrant. It was then that FD Element turned the domain over to the City of Vancouver.

Then we saw that FD Element were prominently featured on the guest lists of private parties held during the Olympics at the disastrous Vancouver House pavilion. We now know that part of the FD Element crowd that were gnoshing were actually a three-person video crew tasked with following Gregor Robertson’s every move during the 2010 Games.

Now, as we’ve indicated earlier, Gregor Robertson was invisible and virtually non-existent before and during the 2010 Games. The Mayor didn’t feel the need to boost the Games (choosing to show up at NO 2010 protests instead), and as a result the media (both local and international) for the most part ignored Robertson. Sure, he made a few appearances here and there, but most were asking where the guy was.

Well, since he couldn’t earn any of the spotlight someone figured out that we should use tax dollars to promote Gregor. Remember those annoying "enjoy the free events" radio ads featuring Gregor’s voice? Well, they did one better, and spent a ton of money on videos almost no one watched.

While Marisa Thomas was led to believe by the City that the videos had been watched by over 14,000 viewers, the City’s YouTube channel indicates that most of the 21 videos have been watched at the most a few hundred times, and only three crack 1,000 views.

FD Element says they hoped the videos got to show off Vancouver for the world, but what they really did was let a few hundred Vision Vancouver supporters root on Gregor Robertson. For fifty thousand bucks that’s pretty pathetic, especially when we can think of much better uses for that kind of taxpayer dosh.

Note, it’s been pointed out that several elected leaders including BC’s Premier use similar marketing tactics. We don’t know if in those other instances that it’s such a bald-faced gift to a political supporter.

– post by Mike

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  • mystic

    Giving untendered contracts to friends and insiders is becoming the norm for vision vancouver. Remember they also gave Hoggan and Associates two untendered contracts valued at $60,000 to help them with their olympic spin on the athlete’s village. I think Globaltv covered that too. These kind of actions will be remembered in the next civic election campaign which thankfully is only about a dozen or so months away from beginning.

  • I think some additional figures and facts would provide some context for this story.
    How much does it cost to offer up a tendered contract in terms of City staff time and resources? Is it not entirely possible that this approach saved money?
    How far does $50,000 go when doing video production (not very far generally speaking).
    What would be the estimated cost to switch suppliers, when you are already using a team that’s up-to-speed on your messaging and branding goals?
    My gut feeling is that the costs would be a non-story to most people with that additional information at their disposal. Certainly I suppose one could debate the rationale or efficacy of the videos, but the amount sounds to be pretty much in-line with most video production efforts where high-quality and good production values are expected, and working with a current supplier isn’t exactly unheard-of.
    cheers,
    CK

  • Andrew

    This is typical of Gregor Robertson. From day 1 he has tried to run this goverment on cheesy catch-phrases and photo-ops. Hey Gregor, we’re still not buying it. Greenest City by 2015? Please. What else are you selling? If you’re still our mayor come 2015, I for one will be moving to Surrey where they currently have a ‘real’ mayor with a ‘real’ vision.

  • We Are Amused

    As usual, a half-assed social media marketing attempt by the Kids At the Hall.
    Anyone in marketing would tell you that topping out at 1000 views is a crappy ROI and cost per thousdand. That’s $50 cost per viewer (and we don’t even know if they were unique visits!!) and thus not as effective as many other ways to deliver whatever message they were trying sto deliver. If anyone knows what that is, exactly, do let me know.
    Did the Mayor think that this was going to go “viral?”. Not a chance!! There’s not an authentic, interesting or new concept in the reams of digital shot here. Why does this smell/look like a make-work project??
    The Mayor and his team are interested about showcasing the Mayor, on our taxpayer dime.

  • OK, for starters, the cost per impression wasn’t $50.00. Reread the article. Secondly, as long as the videos are up, that cost will continue to drop. Thirdly, $50.00 to get a customer is not an excessive amount… and depending on the product being offered, it may be a heckuva deal.

  • Max

    Chris:
    What have they done to promote these videos?
    If no one knows they exist unless they randomly pass by them on the City website or whereever – then they are somewhat useless and a complete waste of money.
    What is driving visits?
    I am guessing a strong percentage of the local population did not even know these existed until they were ‘outed’ by mmm, myself included.

  • Hi Max:
    I can’t answer your question. It would be better directed toward the company that produced the videos, or the city staff. I’m just trying to inject some reality into the hand-wringing over this effort and address the erroneous statements put forth by We Are Amused regarding the cost per impression.
    As I noted in my first post, criticizing the efficacy or rationale may well be fair game, but suggesting a no-bid $50,000 video production is outrageous, or sticking with a current supplier is undue favouritism requires some context to show that is indeed unusual or overly-expensive.

  • We Are Amused

    Chris,
    I was referrring to the topline number (most viewers) of 1000 across 3 of the 22 videos. Yes, I am making an assumption that this is the topline number of visits—that those same people would have wandered off to some or all of the other videos in the series. I feel comfy taking that as a guess—and a generous one at that.
    Like Max, I whole-heartedly agree that the whole experience is a waste without a multi-faceted approach taken in order to drive traffic. Didn’t see an ad, didn’t see earned media, didn’t hear about it through Twitter or Facebook or, etc. Also, what is the objective of this exercise, exactly. Would love to see the rationale and marketin/communications document on this one. I am sure that ex Olympics Communication staffer Ryan Merkely must have it…somewhere. Oh, I do make myself laugh.
    Come on, even you can recognize a lot of money down a rat-hole for naught, can’t you???
    This seems like a feeble one-off at best, and a taxpayer funded vanity project for Gregor and Vision, at worst.
    I am sticking with the worst.

  • Chris, while I salute your earnestness and devotion to Vision Vancouver, my friendly advice is to stick to bikes. This expenditure by Gregor’s office and the City was a straight up gift to a political supporter, and it’s poor value for the money. Not to mention that it is unprecedented political marketing done by City Hall. Just give it a rest. We get that you think that it’s okay to bend the rules because it’s Vision.

  • Again (for the third time) I will make note that I am not taking issue with the criticism of the efficacy or rationale, but with the characterization of the awarded contract as a ‘gift to a political supporter’. People work with suppliers again and again. That’s business.
    My email archive shows a press release regarding the video series issued on Feb. 18, and a Google Search turns up one story at Granville Online. Not a great outcome, I agree.
    21 videos also serving historic/archival purposes at $50,000 however… I can see why a communications department might choose to go ahead with the project. $2000 per minute for finished video doesn’t sound atypical cost-wise in my experience.

  • Mike:
    I have no devotion to any party. I just think your story was missing a few elements. What rules were bent?

  • We Are Amused

    Chris,
    I will re-ask this question: for what purpose was this series of videos made?
    What was the objective?
    Was it “marketing” for something? If it was, for what?
    What was the anticipated return on investment? How were they measuring the efficacy of the effort? What were they hoping to achieve?
    What and how were they measuring this expenditure of public money? What constituted success of this particular communications piece.
    BTW, like Power Point (yuck) brevity is the soul of wit/clarity when trying to get a message out. 2 or 3 videos in a series would be conidered optimum. 21 or 22—no, not so much. Mostly because you tend to lose viewers.
    This i all very curious…

  • W.A.A.
    I think you should be directing your question to Mike Klassen. As I mentioned in my first post, more context is required to gain a better sense of whether this is newsworthy.

  • Bill

    Come on Chris. If it was the NPA spending the $50,000 would you be questioning whether or not it was newsworthy?

  • “Come on Chris. If it was the NPA spending the $50,000 would you be questioning whether or not it was newsworthy?”
    Yep. I have a lot of respect for a number of the NPA councillors and the work they’ve done in the past.
    Gordon Price and Peter Ladner laid the groundwork for the current improvements to cycling infrastructure in the city. I can recognize and honor that. Philip Owen’s dedication to the four pillars approach was very courageous and also garners my admiration.
    When the Burrard bridge bike lanes were implemented, I expressed my discontent with the current Council for not trying a two lane reallocation trial… so calling me a Vision toady is inaccurate.
    But I’d best temper my remarks, because clearly agreeing with a politician makes you a slavering acolyte.
    Further, I have some experience in video production and know that $50,000 isn’t an excessive bill for a project such as the one in question. I can watch the linked news report and note that the project was offered to 3 other firms in addition to the one awarded the contract, one of which turned it down outright. So arguably it can’t be that juicy a plum if it’s not necessarily worth putting in a proposal. I can also understand why one would choose an existing supplier to perform a project, esp. if they deliver the low bid (as is stated in the Global story).
    The real question (unanswered) by this story is whether or not this is a common practice or an unusual exception. If it’s the latter, then the story has legs. If this is S.O.P. in most jurisdictions, then, not so much.
    Stop asking the wrong person (me) the wrong question (are you or have you ever been a Visionista?) and take a look at this thing critically. The strategy and outcome may well have been unsuccessful and worthy of criticism, but piling on me because I feel there’s a need for more context to truly understand the story (and its implication that it was a clear case of using taxpayers’ money to reward supporters) doesn’t strike me as anything other than displaying the flip side of the partisan barracking for which I’m being accused.

  • Bill

    Let’s see – when NPA supported the bicycle lanes, NPA was good. When Vision did not go far enough with the bicycle lanes, Vision was bad. Maybe Mike was right – you should just stick to the cycling issues.

  • Ummm, OK. Actually some of us are capable of thinking in more complex terms than good/bad, on/off. Do dimmer switches leave you befuddled Bill?

  • Bill

    I apologize. You’re right, I don’t consider the issues of cycling in Vancouver as complex. However, it was not my intention to demean your area of interest and expertise.