Local NewsTaxes & SpendingAustin City Council to Consider $15 Million Contract for COVID-19 Vaccine Marketing

The contract carries a five-year term and is aimed at "vaccine hesitancy" among the population.
April 7, 2022
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At its Thursday meeting, the Austin City Council will vote on approval of a $15 million contract “to provide marketing and public relations for COVID-19 response.” 

The contract’s term is for five years, and the vendor is Sherry Matthews, proprietor of the Austin-based marketing firm Sherry Matthews Group.

Matthews has done similar work in the past, including for the New York City “Vaccine for All” campaign. Eight total vendors submitted bids for the contract, and Matthews was chosen from that pool.

“Outreach will center on developing creative concepts for comprehensive COVID-19 response marketing including advertising content and collateral materials,” the contract reads.

“Outreach scope includes identifying paid and other placement opportunities on traditional and non-traditional media outlets and platforms to maximize across key audiences by demographic and location(s) as defined by [Austin Public Health].”

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The service breakdown shows:

  • 30 percent of funds will be used for “Broadcast Media”
  • 20 percent for “Digital Media” 
  • 15 percent for “Social Media”
  • 10 percent for “Community Media” 
  • 25 percent for “Campaign development, management, and media placement”

Specifically, the project’s intention is to convince individuals to seek out coronavirus vaccinations and booster shots — aiming to address “vaccine hesitancy.”

The city also states it intends to spend $1.75 million of its federal coronavirus aid on the contract. Austin was awarded $188.4 million in relief dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act — which come with attached strings from the U.S. Treasury.

Mayor Steve Adler recently tested positive for coronavirus, and said, “My experience is a reminder to test when significantly exposed to COVID and the very real benefit of getting vaccinated and boosted.”

Austin officials have been pushing residents to get vaccinated with both monetary incentives and warnings of reintroduced restrictions.

Earlier this year, the council approved $100 gift cards as incentives to convince Austinites to get vaccinated.

The city’s vaccination dashboard shows it has divvied out over 523,000 vaccine doses, about 30,000 of which are booster shots.

Coronavirus metrics in the area and state have declined so much that Austin, one of the most trigger-happy localities during the pandemic, lifted all of its emergency orders at the end of March.

A similar contract for vaccine outreach services has landed Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo in some legal trouble due to alleged tampering in the competitive bidding process. Hidalgo has denied any wrongdoing.

Austin has spent with alacrity on other contracting services, such as $2.9 million for a Critical Race Theory-imbued training program for police officers and city employees and hundreds of millions of dollars for homeless housing projects, some of which cannot be accounted for.

With an approval by the council, the contract with Matthews will move forward.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.

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