OMC Readies House After $600 Mil. BofA Victory

Bank of America wants to be the most admired company in the world, and the pitch among WPP, Omnicom and incumbent IPG for the $600 million business centered on how each team would bring all their marketing capabilities to bear to help the client promote its “higher standards,” sources said last week.

It was similar to a brief agencies worked from in 2002, but this time around, one source said, the client knew it had to “engage the customer in a more human, emotional way.”

The client selected Omnicom last week, and the account has already begun to transition from IPG, which won the business in November 2002. With $65 million in revenue (making BofA the biggest account shift so far this year), IPG had 350 people across 16 agencies working on the account.

Omnicom CEO John Wren and evp Susan Smith Ellis were at Omnicom’s Madison Avenue headquarters last Wednesday when they got the call from BofA global CMO Catherine Bessant at about 10 a.m., informing them that the committee of about eight to 10 executives had selected Omnicom.

Ellis and Wren exchanged smiles and high fives as they continued the brief phone conversation.

In a statement last week, Wren called BofA “an iconic world-class brand that we are proud to now include in our distinguished client portfolio of global brands.”

Ellis, whose Omnicom duties have been as a behind-the-scenes new-business strategist, will oversee BofA, along with an executive team of about eight people whom she declined to identify because they haven’t all been decided yet. Also undetermined is where the as-yet-unnamed dedicated unit on the account will be housed.

“We’re not creating a 300-person dedicated unit,” Ellis said. “It won’t be like BBDO Detroit, which works on one client. It’s similar to the IPG model. Those 350 people didn’t leave their agencies to work on the business. This will be a small group of eight to 10 people. If I use a team from BBDO or Radiate [Group], they will not leave those agencies.”

Unlike WPP, Omnicom has long held that the individual agency brands should lead any pitch, not the holding company. Its about-face on the matter has been criticized by some as a change in its core philosophy. In turn, Omnicom execs say they are simply being flexible and responsive to BofA’s needs.

Ellis said the executive team will be culled from among the eight agencies and 55 people who comprised Team Omnicom for the pitch: Live Technology, Organic, BBDO, Javelin Direct, OMD, Cultura, Radiate Group and The Promotion Network (TPN).

They won’t be mere coordinators, but “strategists who understand Bank of America’s business and bring to bear Omnicom’s resources for solutions,” said Ellis, whom Wren tapped in late July to lead the pitch.

Other top executives who helped Omnicom win include DAS CEO Tom Harrison, Omnicom Asia-Pacific CEO Michael Birkin, Radiate Group CMO Jay Lenstrom, BBDO CEO Andrew Robertson, the agency’s chief creative officer for North America, David Lubars, and New York CEO John Osborn.

WPP put forth such agencies as Soho Square, Grey Direct, Bravo Group (multicultural), 141, MediaCom, MJM (event marketing) and Berlin Cameron/Red Cell. Interestingly, also involved in WPP’s pitch was Peter DeNunzio, a top executive at OgilvyOne, where American Express is a client. When contacted for comment, AmEx said it does not discuss its agency relationships. An Ogilvy representative also declined comment.

Although it was a holding company pitch, sources said that Wren and WPP CEO Martin Sorrell made themselves scarce after the initial team meetings with the client the week of August 1. “[The client] didn’t want Sorrell or Wren in these meetings,” one source said. “They wanted to meet the teams who would work on their business.”

Sources said IPG’s Draft and Jack Morton have been asked by the client to handle the business for up to another six months while Omnicom ramps up resources in those areas.

Draft will be hardest hit by the BofA loss because BofA represents about $33 million in revenue for the agency, sources said. A client representative said most of the account will arrive at Omnicom by mid-December.

Still unknown is the fate of Bruce Nelson, who ran the account for IPG and whose dispute with IPG CEO Michael Roth was a key reason for the review, sources said. Nelson went public with complaints of “philosophical differences” with Roth over how the account was handled at IPG. The clock began ticking on his non-compete when the account went to Omnicom. Sources said IPG will pay Nelson for a year, and after that he is bound by a two-year non-compete in which he cannot work for a competitor on BofA. It does not, however, apply to working directly for the bank.

In an internal memo last week, Roth told his BofA team that “there are times when even great work is not enough to overcome other factors that destabilize a relationship.”

The pitches began Aug. 1 in Charlotte, N.C. The Omnicom and WPP teams met for several days with client executives in rotating groups of 20 people per room, said sources.

On Aug. 18, the client got a final look at both teams. Each side presented for exactly two hours, with Omnicom going first, sources said. The teams had to demonstrate capabilities around yet another hypothetical problem.