First USA Has $100 Mil. DM Task

Incumbent HHCC May Be Hamstrung By Clients Elsewhere
BOSTON–The nation’s top issuer of credit cards is shopping for a direct marketing agency to handle a new assignment that sources said could be worth $100-150 million.
First USA in Wilmington, Del., is seeking a shop to create direct marketing materials touting loan products to its enormous body of credit-card holders, sources said. Boston-based consultancy Pile and Co. was hired last week to manage the review.
First USA, a subsidiary of Chicago-based Bank One, is one of the leading providers of MasterCard and Visa cards. It issues credit under its own First Card and Bank One names. It also issues co-branded credit cards with some 2,200 marketing partners, including America Online.
Executives at First USA and Pile could not be reached last week. The client hopes to have a shop on board this month.
Sources cautioned that the billings figure included such things as postage. “The bulk or a great proportion of that [budget] is consumed by a production budget,” one source said, “which for direct marketing can be postage.”
First USA already works with a number of DM agencies, including Boston’s Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos. Whether or not HHCC would pursue the account is yet to be seen, but one source expressed doubts last week, noting that the shop has potential conflicts, particularly with clients such as BankBoston. BankBoston is a client of the Boston agency, while HHCC’s First USA account is handled at the agency’s direct marketing division in New York.
In addition, BankBoston is being acquired by Fleet Financial Group and sources noted that it might be impolitic for HHCC to bring up conflict questions with BankBoston even as its own future with the client may be uncertain.
First USA’s direct marketing review is expected to have no bearing on parent Bank One’s relationships with its agencies. Deutsch landed creative and media duties for Bank One’s retail arm in March. The shop bested DDB, Chicago, TBWA/Chiat/Day and D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, both New York, to capture the estimated $60 million account.
Bank One/First USA had 15.4 percent ($70 billion) of the total credit card market in 1998, according to Faulkner & Gray. Citibank is second with 15.3 percent ($69.6 billion) followed by MBNA America with 11.8 percent ($53.3 billion).