Inside Norwegian Cruise Line’s RFP

Location matters in Norwegian Cruise Line’s search for an agency to handle creative and media duties on its advertising account.

In its request for proposals, the Miami-based Norwegian notes that it “wants an agency that is easily accessible in order to facilitate face-to-face meetings. Therefore, agencies on the East Coast are preferred, but no agency will be excluded based on geography.”

The incumbent, Omnicom Group’s GSD&M Idea City, is based in Austin, Texas—roughly 1,100 miles or two hours by plane from Miami. Nevertheless, GSD&M is defending.

Major media spending on the brand has declined in recent years, from more than $30 million in 2007 to about $20 million in 2008 and $13 million in 2009, before rising a bit to $16 million last year, according to Nielsen. Those figures don’t include online spending.

In its search, Norwegian also seeks experience in the retail and hospitality sectors as well as with challenger brands, according to the RFP. In addition, the shop must demonstrate past success at collaborating with multiple agencies, given that Norwegian also employs shops for search marketing (Resolution Media), Web development (Sapient) and database management (Epsilon). Those assignments are not part of the review.

“Proven ability to work with a client’s existing partners is critical,” the RFP notes.

GSD&M has handled the business since 2005. Its most recent campaign, for the launch of Norwegian’s Epic line of cruise ships last year, consisted of print and Web ads and outdoor events. The work continued to tout Norwegian’s concept of “freestyle cruising,” which encourages passengers to relax and customize their experiences on board.

The review comes as Norwegian, which has been in business since 1966, prepares for an initial public offering later this year. The company, now owned by Apollo Management, TPG Capital and Genting Hong Kong, also has ordered new ships that will increase its capacity by 30 percent in the next three years, according to the RFP.

Pile + Co. in Boston is managing the review. Agency replies to the RFP are due Tuesday, and based on submissions, the client will select a handful of finalists early next month. Final presentations are slated for March 8-9, according to a schedule in the RFP.

Among the key decision-makers in the review is Maria Miller, svp of marketing. Miller joined Norwegian in June 2009. Before that, she was chief marketing officer at the Dave & Buster’s restaurant chain in Dallas. Earlier in her career, she held marketing positions at Avis and American Express.