Elections BC
Credit: Elections BC on Twitter

The Toronto group has accused the provincial election office of asking marketing firms to work for free

The Institute of Communication Agencies (ICA) is calling for a boycott of Elections BC’s search process for a new marketing agency.

On April 1, the provincial election office put out the call for a new marketing agency. But according to the Toronto-based ICA, which was established in 1905 and gives agencies a safe space to report bad cases of client practice with its ICA Pitch Watch, the Elections BC review process is flawed.

“Our policy is no speculative work,” says Scott Knox, president of the ICA, who notes that Elections BC has asked for an “onerous amount of free, speculative work in order to win this account.”

Not only is that a tough proposition for most marketing agencies during COVID, it’s especially difficult for smaller outfits, Knox argues. “It really cuts out smaller and enterprise businesses,” he says. “It’s only the agencies that have a huge team that can put the time into creating this instead of working on actual client business. The majority of smaller agencies wont have the capacity or the resources to do work speculatively.”

That’s not the ICA’s only gripe with the government branch, though. According to Elections BC’s request for proposals (RFP), “all proposals and other records submitted to the Province in relation to the RFP become the property of the Province.”

“It’s like going into Starbucks and saying, Hi, can you come up with seven different arrangements—I’d like to try them all for free, and then I’ll buy one, but all the others will be owned by me, too,” Knox says. “It’s ludicrous and shouldn’t be happening in this world where we encourage Canada’s creative talent on this stage.”

Since ICA Pitch Watch was established in 2016, Knox notes, his organization has worked with more than 100 clients, including the federal government, Toronto-Dominion Bank and the Toronto Transit Commission. Elections BC is only the seventh client with which the ICA has had to take a public stance.

Elections BC

Knox, for his part, says he approached Elections BC about changing its process but was told no. “They said they’d like to but they can’t, since they’re already in the process, and I had to remind them that the RFP says it can be amended,” he says, pointing out that the RFP states that Elections BC can modify its terms at any time. “They can do whatever they want; they’re choosing not to. It just feels quite ugly.”

When reached for comment, a representative of Elections BC said that the agency search is being led in accordance with the BC Public Service's procurement standards.

“What’s really worrying is the fact that B.C., like many other provinces, spends so much money on educating and supporting creative talent with lots of amazing initiatives,” Knox says. “And then on the other hand, it’s, Please can you give us all this for free in order to win an account from us?”