The Central Office of Information is set to put more than pounds 100m worth of government advertising business up for grabs in the next few weeks in a full-scale review of its creative agency roster.
The review, led by COI Communications chief executive Carol Fisher and group director of marketing communications Peter Buchanan, will take place as soon as the government announces the date of the next general election.
With an election expected to be called for the beginning of May or even earlier, and the election campaign lasting between three and six weeks, the agency review could theoretically begin as early as this month.
Fisher said the review will not just cover the ad agency roster, but refused to say which others will be overhauled.
The COI oversees several rosters, including direct marketing, media, sales promotion, design and sponsorship.
The government itself is not allowed to advertise between the date it calls an election and polling day unless ads receive approval from the head of the Government Information and Communications Service and the Cabinet Office.
Approval is generally only granted to campaigns that focus on non-political matters, such as public sector recruitment and health and safety.
The COI spent pounds 113.5m on advertising in 1999-2000 out of a marketing communications budget of pounds 200m. The last statutory review of government advertising business was held in 1997, when 35 above-the-line agencies were hired to the roster.
Agencies that have since run campaigns for the government include M&C Saatchi, which handles police recruitment and the 2001 Census, Delaney Lund Knox Warren, which created the current stakeholder pensions push, St Luke's, Saatchi & Saatchi and Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO.