Chemical Company Seeks A Brand Less Controversial

Dow Chemical Co.’s decision to ask Publicis Groupe, WPP, Omnicom and Interpublic to field teams of agencies to pitch a multidisciplinary assignment is nothing new. HSBC, Samsung and Bank of America are but a few clients that have gone the holding company route in the past two years.

In those pitches, however, the global ad agency networks led the teams. This time, for a new global corporate image assignment, public relations agencies are driving the effort, and sources said it’s because Dow relies heavily on PR to build its brand. “It’s not common,” a source said of the tactic, “but it’s not unheard of.”

Dow’s ad spending history also suggests little reliance on advertising. Between 2000 and 2004, Dow spent less than $1 million annually in major measured media on corporate image ads in the U.S., according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus. Last year, that figure jumped to more than $10 million, but that’s still a relatively modest sum for a $46 billion chemical company, the world’s second largest behind BASF.

Dow, under CEO and chairman-elect Andrew Liveris, is said to be looking to reposition its brand, which in recent years has used the slogan, “Living. Improved daily.” And Dow executives think they can accomplish the task more efficiently if their business is consolidated at a single holding company, according to the RFP. (The company’s roster shops now include WPP’s Burson-Marsteller in New York and Publicis’ Leo Burnett in Detroit.) “We are seeking to increase our penetration and leverage through consolidation of agency resources into a comprehensive and integrated program,” the RFP states.

Liveris “has a very clear vision for the company,” added a source. “They want to be recognized for the benefits, the value that they bring, rather than just the controversies.”

Billings on the assignment have not been determined, but sources estimated they would be in the $25 million to $35 million range. Naturally, Dow is looking for more than PR, as the holding company teams offer everything from ads and media to consulting and internal communications. Publicis’ team, for example, includes PR firm Manning Selvage & Lee, events specialist Publicis Dialog and ad agency Publicis, said sources.

WPP is putting forth Burson-Marsteller, Mediaedge:cia, pollster Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, Young & Rubicam and brand consultancy Landor Associates, all in New York, while Omnicom is offering the Chicago offices of Porter Novelli and Energy BBDO, among others, said sources. IPG’s team includes the Chicago offices of GolinHarris and Foote Cone & Belding and was assembled with the help of IPG chief growth officer Marjorie Altschuler, sources said. Agency presentations are scheduled this week at the client’s headquarters in Midland, Mich.

The agencies either declined comment or could not be reached. In a statement, Dow said that it had “launched a comprehensive and integrated corporate communications program in 2005 and continues to discuss how to accelerate these efforts.” Asked to elaborate, a company rep added: “You don’t see or know about the everyday products Dow makes, such as what goes into the soda pop bottles or the parts of the telephone that make it work. We want to accelerate our reputation efforts as a major Fortune 50 company whose products contribute to the everyday quality of life.”

Dow, like other rivals, such as DuPont, faces many challenges when crafting its image. “People in the business arena know what chemical companies do,” said Mark Shadle, evp, managing director, corporate affairs at the Chicago office of Edelman, an independent that has worked for BP’s former chemical unit in the past. “What’s more important is the way these companies do business and indicating that they’re responsible companies. And that they’re going to be so going forward.”