Northern Ireland

Invest NI seeking tenders for brand and media services in deals that could reach £17m

The independent review panel, from left, Dame Rotha Johnston, Sir Michael Lyons and Maureen O'Reilly.
The independent review panel, from left, Dame Rotha Johnston, Sir Michael Lyons and Maureen O'Reilly.

INVEST NI, the embattled job creation agency, is seeking tenders from outside contractors to deliver “brand design and media services” in deals that could total £17m over five years.

Details of the tender process have emerged following a highly critical report on the agency’s operations, including its marketing and communications strategy.

The agency said on Tuesday there is no link between the report’s publication and the tender process.

“Invest NI has procured the service of design agencies and media (advertising) buying since the organisation was established,” an agency spokesperson said.

“Our current contracts have been in operation since 01 April 2018, for a maximum of 5 years, and are due to expire in April 2023, hence the current procurement exercise.”

According to the tender document, the agency is seeking contractors initially for two lots worth up to 6m each, one for the domestic market, the other international. There will be the option for two further periods of 12 months.

“The value of this contract is estimated between £12M and £17M overall,” the tender documents state, adding Invest NI “does not guarantee any level of business under this contract”.

Successful bidders will have an understanding of strategic context, deliver creative direction and design of campaign materials and have a media direction, rationale and plan, according to the documents.

The agency said the money for the services comes under the communications and marketing group budget, which totalled £5.8m in 2021/22, down from £7.1m the previous year.

According to the independent review, Invest NI spent approximately £25m on marketing and communications in the five years to the end of the 2021 financial year.

Ex-BBC chairman Sir Michael Lyons, economist Maureen O’Reilly and business figure Dame Rotha Johnston carried out the review, concluding dysfunctional relationships and tension at the highest level of the organisation harmed its performance.

On communications and marketing, the review team concluded: “We found that Invest NI does not have a strategic communications and engagement strategy, thus does not clearly articulate the breadth of its activities, nor its subsequent impact.”

It added: “Invest NI staff have themselves conceded that the breadth of the Invest NI portfolio is perhaps not fully understood by the public and branding could be stronger, particularly in relation to overseas offices’ role and scope.

"These conversations emphasise that communications are falling short internally as well as externally."

Invest NI stated the communications and marketing group has operated with 15 posts out of 38 (approximately 39%) either unfilled or filled by temporary promotions or agency staff.

“This instability has not been conducive to the development or implementation of a structured communications strategy and, in our view, impacts the Group’s ability to deliver on objectives," the three member review group concluded.