Anchorage PR firm to find out if U.S. likes us

Dittman awarded Alaska image contract

Posted: Sunday, April 23, 2006

An Anchorage polling firm has won a $100,000 state contract to figure out what the rest of the nation thinks about Alaska, the first part of Gov. Frank Murkowski's idea to boost the state's image.

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Dittman Research and Communications Corp. was selected by a five-person committee that reviewed bids of eight companies responding to the governor's request for proposals.

Murkowski's office announced Friday it intends to award the contract to Dittman following a 10-day protest period.

Details of the contract and competing bids will not be released until the contract is officially awarded, Murkowski spokeswoman Becky Hultberg said.

Murkowski authorized a public-relations campaign in reaction to the rejection last year of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and the fight over Congress' earmarking money for two "bridges to nowhere" in Ketchikan and Anchorage.

Those debates revealed a national view of Alaska that is sorely distorted, the governor said.

His plan is to document exactly what the nation's view are of Alaska, where those perceptions come from, and then figure out how to change them.

Dittman Research and a subcontractor in Washington, D.C., will tackle the first phase. President Dave Dittman said the companies will conduct a telephone survey of about 1,500 people in the other 49 states.

Pollsters will ask respondents their perceptions of Alaska and where they get their information about the state. Dittman said the company also will hold a series of focus groups on the same topic.

The group intends to create a questionnaire, conduct the research and analyze the results within a month.

"I don't have any idea what we're going to find," Dittman said.

Former Gov. Jay Hammond in 1981 hired his firm to do the same type of research, Dittman said. Then, the issue was the beginning of Alaska Permanent Fund dividend program, which hands out cash to Alaskans each year just for living in the state.

Hammond and the congressional delegation was not sure how that program would go over in the rest of the nation, and whether giving away state money would cause resentment in Congress and reduce federal assistance.

"Are we the blue-eyed Arabs of the North? Nobody knew for sure how it was being perceived Outside," Dittman said.

Then, Dittman created a "national image survey" for Alaska. It is similar to what the new "national perception survey" will be, Dittman said.

His company's research then showed that most people loved Alaska and Alaskans.

"They didn't care if they got a dividend," he said. "We were pleasantly surprised that people like Alaska. They liked it a lot."

Once the research is completed, the next phase of Murkowski's plan is to find a way to spread the message that Alaska has a lot to offer the nation.

Dittman said his company will not bid to participate in that phase of the project.

Other bidders for the state contract were Aadland Marketing Group of Anchorage; Northern Economic Research Associates of Fairbanks; Allyn & Co. of Dallas; Moore Information of Portland, Ore.; Public Strategies Inc. of Austin, Texas; CRG Research of Seattle, which also has an office in Anchorage; and Northwest Strategies of Anchorage.

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