Now Allies, televest and Wells Bddp Make a big play for P&G’s big bucks.
Later this month, the battle will be joined for Procter & Gamble’s television buying and planning assignment. The stakes are enormous: The winner will be agency of record for the largest-ever media consolidation, worth about $1.2 billion.
The assignment, which will begin with the 1998-99 season, will be made in late November or early December, according to P&G representative Kristen Hall. “We’re sensitive to making the decision quickly so the AOR can get things up and running,” she says.
Meanwhile, as the four contenders gird for the competition at P&G’s headquarters in Cincinnati, a number of questions remain unanswered about a review that is capturing the attention of many in the agency and marketing communities.
Chief among them: Whether an unusual strategic alliance between Wells BDDP and TeleVest, the broadcast buying and programming arm of D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, will prove too formidable for the other participants in the review: Grey Advertising, Cordiant’s Zenith Media and Leo Burnett. (While P&G invited all eight of its agencies into the fray, some of the smaller shops, such as Jordan, McGrath, Case & Taylor, declined, feeling they were not in a position to beat out the larger contenders. Those familiar with the process now think the review is down to this group of four.)
What role will the runners-up play in the planning process? Can those responsibilities be effectively coordinated with the new agency of record? And how will optimizers, the computer-based systems used abroad but expected to transform the U.S. media-planning landscape, affect the review?
But it’s the TeleVest-Wells alliance, announced on Sept. 5, that is drawing the closest speculation. Frank Assumma, chairman and CEO at Wells, describes it as “a case of strong competitors working together to go after an assignment as a stronger entity. It gives us a better level of expertise. This is a case of one plus one has to equal at least three.”
Others point to a different set of numbers in assessing the alliance. The two incumbents already have hold of the bulk of P&G’s TV dollars, with TeleVest currently controlling $775 million in broadcast and syndication and Wells handling sports ($50 million) and cable ($200 million).
In addition to clout, the combination would appear to have history-personal and business-on its side. Assumma worked at DMB&B predecessor Benton & Bowles for 10 years; he has known TeleVest president Irwin Gotlieb for two decades. The shops were awarded their assignments in 1991.
Wells’ cable TV department draws praise. “There are strong systems and a lot of good people in place that have been working on P&G business for a long time,” says a source at a P&G roster shop who, like many people interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It’s a good complement to what TeleVest does.”
Observers point to the cost of doing cable as the logic behind the alliance. “It’s not like broadcast, where the inventory is much more expensive and there are a lot fewer choices,” says one media buyer. “With $200 million worth of cable, you’re talking incredible allocation, a ton of spots. You can lose your shirt on cable. Wells makes money off the creative and account sides of the P&G brands it works with.” If TeleVest went alone, this buyer argues, it would have “nothing to amortize those cable costs off against and [cable] would eat into the profits it can make with the other media.” Adds another exec: “The bottom line is if [TeleVest] got the assignment, they would have to hire and train a lot more people.”
Assumma admits the alliance hinges on Wells’ cable prowess. “But it’s also the systems involved, the expertise of the negotiators,” he says. “If one agency has three of the top 20 buyers and the other has four, you wind up with seven. That’s a big difference.”
Whatever the ultimate reasons for the pairing, this much is clear: Should the team win, Wells personnel will be moving to TeleVest. In the prepared statement announcing the alliance, Gotlieb, who declined comment for this story, said, “The combined units, with everyone located here, will be in a position to offer P&G a smoother transition with continuity of personnel on the buying assignments.”
Far less certain is how brand agencies will play into the overall P&G equation starting next year. While published reports have intimated that all planning and buying will fall to the AOR, the planning side has not yet been determined.
Daryl Simm, recently promoted to vice president of media and programming at P&G, is the driving force behind the review. Traveling in China, he was unavailable for comment. Hall, the company representative, notes that the creative duties at roster shops would not feel any impact. “The assignment is for all U.S. TV buying and some of the tactical planning,” she says. “P&G’s brand management teams will work with the brand agencies to determine media needs. The AOR will then decide how to most effectively and efficiently deliver against those needs.”
In other words, it appears the procedures have not been finalized. “The brand agencies will continue to plan media for their brands, the exact delineation of which is still being determined,” says an executive at a contender. “P&G is still talking to shops about that; that’s part of the review process. P&G has asked the candidates how the brand agencies should be involved.”
For an illustration of how it might work, some look to Leo Burnett, which earlier this year won P&G’s print buying and planning work. Based on the Burnett experience, an executive at a P&G shop surmises that roster agencies will still be heavily involved with their P&G brands on creative, direct marketing, PR, Internet and event-program aspects. “We provide Burnett with our composition, coverage and target-audience information, but we don’t get to select the books. I think it will pretty much work the same way for television,” the executive says. “The winner of the review will get the CPM, budget and frequency goals from the brand agencies. In turn, the AOR will base a schedule and buys to meet those delivery needs.”
Burnett executives declined to talk about the P&G TV review and the print assignment in detail.
What effect optimizers will have on P&G’s decision is not known, but evidently only those armed with the system are making it to the dance. “You can forget about [winning the review] unless you can effectively demonstrate that you can optimize the mass amount of media P&G purchases,” says a former P&G employee. “P&G’s targets used to be more homogenous. Now, it’s teens, men, older women, young moms, you name it.”
Of course, P&G will have to determine its objectives, and, at the moment, the client isn’t saying much. “We don’t want to put a cap on their creativity or the comprehensiveness of our agencies’ plans,” says Hall. “Through our pitch invitation and discussions, we think the agencies understand what we’re after.”
Despite the hype, few are viewing optimizers as a panacea. “Planning is a very complex practice. You have to remember it’s a machine,” says a media agency source. “It doesn’t know the market factors that only come with years of experience.” And no matter who wins it, the P&G work will be enormously complex. By its own definition, the P&G product lineup includes 300 brands serving 5 billion consumers in 140 countries.
Agency observers note that each major contender offers strengths that could well appeal to P&G when a decision is made later this year. “If I had to bet, I’d certainly put money on TeleVest-Wells,” says one source. “Wells has a great cable department, and TeleVest does a terrific job in broadcast. Plus, they’ve put together all those programs.” TeleVest, through deals with the Paramount Television Group and Columbia Pictures Television, has helped P&G become a partner in nine prime-time shows this season, including Clueless and Jenny.
Those who like Grey’s chances cite the shop’s international work for P&G and its use of X*Pert optimizer software abroad. Then, there’s the momentum factor. Several sources point to Grey’s recent winning streak, an impressive roll call that includes Jockey, Six Flags, Reebok (media only) and HFS.
Observers say Burnett should not be counted out. Several sources believe the unbundling of its media services department as part of its recently announced restructuring will certainly help its cause. Some suggest that Burnett’s status as the AOR on the print side could also be an advantage, although P&G might be reluctant to put all its media in one basket.
As for Zenith, sources point out that P&G likes to be fair to its agencies; as a result, the shop could actually benefit in this review from its earlier loss of AOR print duties. It also has the exclusive use of X*Pert software in this country through the end of this year and wields other optimizer technology.
It’s a suitably tough race. “There is nothing that Wells brings to the table [with TeleVest] that we don’t have,” one media executive says. “I’m not especially concerned. If we didn’t think we could win, we wouldn’t be making the trip [to Cincinnati].”
“Anybody who thinks we’re a shoo-in,” says Wells’ Frank Assumma, “is not thinking this through.”
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