The Omnicom Handoff: Keeping Clients Inside

new york It was mid-December when Frito-Lay CEO Irene Rosenfeld phoned Andrew Robertson, BBDO’s worldwide CEO, to tell him that his agency’s concepts for a new Doritos campaign simply weren’t satisfactory.

“We’re in a time box,” she told him, according to sources. “We need a big campaign that we can feel good about.” Doritos executives wanted to go more mass-market with a new brand campaign, departing from the young, male-targeted positioning of “bold and daring” that BBDO developed eight years ago.

Rosenfeld told Roberston she wanted to open the process up to other agencies. Robertson reached out to Omnicom Group CEO John Wren to relay Rosenfeld’s concerns.

A week later, a review was under way, with Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, GSD&M and DDB invited to pitch in addition to BBDO. The process concluded last week with the estimated $30 million account moving from BBDO to Goodby in San Francisco.

Although PepsiCo and, by extension, Frito-Lay have an exclusive contract with Omnicom, the Doritos move marked at least the seventh time in 14 months that Omnicom contained a potential U.S. account loss within the family by convincing clients to look only at its agencies as a potential partner.

“Frito-Lay has been very happy with Omnicom agencies. … They have a strong track record of delivering great creative across our portfolio of brands,” said a company rep.

A similar scenario played out last year after Visa USA brought in a new CEO, CMO and vp of marketing in a span of 18 months. Sources said that CMO Susanne Lyons told BBDO New York president and CEO John Osborn that the company wanted to move away from the 20-year-old tag, “It’s everywhere you want to be.” When BBDO couldn’t crack the brief, the news moved rapidly up the chain of command to Wren, and within a half hour, Lyons was persuaded to meet with only Omnicom agencies. The client then chose to hear pitches from Goodby, and the eventual winner of the $335 million account, TBWA\Chiat\Day in Playa del Rey, Calif.

All told, Omnicom has saved at least $575 million in U.S. billings since January 2005 by surrounding wobbly accounts with its stable of shops—to the exclusion of others. And there will likely be more in coming weeks: Omnicom is expected to hang onto the Dell account as the client prepares to move the consumer portion of its $350 million-plus account from DDB Chicago to BBDO Atlanta, sources said. (DDB remains on the Dell roster; neither Dell nor the agencies would comment.)

Omnicom has also surrounded Motorola, which recently split with Ogilvy in the U.S., with three of its agencies—BBDO (a Motorola roster shop), Goodby and TBWA—which will compete against 180 for what’s expected to be the majority of Motorola’s estimated $100 million global ad spend, said sources. Should an Omnicom agency win that battle, the holding company will be close to retaining nearly a billion dollars in U.S. billings in just over a year with its blanket approach.

By contrast, Interpublic Group pulled off only one exclusive intra-holding company review in 2005; it kept the $30 million Carfax business, according to Adweek reports. WPP can count two intra-WPP reviews during the same period: It was able to retain Unilever’s Ragú and LG Electronics for a total of $40 million.

IPG’s new chief growth officer, Margie Altschuler, is said to be driving a concerted effort to keep business in the family and expand existing client relationships across disciplines. “It’s something that we’re increasingly focusing on,” said an IPG representative.

But the numbers suggest that Omnicom is better positioned to retain dissatisfied clients than its peers.

Observers cite a combination of factors for its success in this area: a corporate culture keen on open communication, intranetwork cooperation, and the creative reputation of its agency brands. That culture is shaped by Omnicom CEO Wren, who has said one of the few rules he insists on is that “bad news should travel faster than good news” [Adweek, Jan. 2]. And his agencies appear to follow that guideline.

“The wonderful thing about [my agencies] is that, not only are they the most talented, but they’re the most forthcoming,” said Wren.”They tell me bad news before it becomes impossible news. There’s enough trust there.” He added that Omnicom has no policy or formula for trying to retain clients. Each case is dealt with differently.

One executive said it’s easy to approach Wren about trouble spots because he “respects and responds to the honesty.” He added: “You’ll get more points with John for telling him when something is falling apart than if you call to brag about winning a new piece of business.”

Many point to Omnicom’s agency stable, which is considered—more than any of the other four major holding companies—to house the crème de la crème of creative talent.

One senior executive who has been a benefactor of business from his Omnicom siblings observed: “John has three strong networks to put in front of the client and say, ‘Why would you need to look beyond these agencies?’ And he’d have a legitimate story to tell there.” The executive added that the other mulitnationals—WPP, IPG, Publicis Groupe and Havas—”don’t have the strength across the board and the variety of agencies to do this with.”

A U.S.-based advertising search consultant concurred. “If these are client companies that cherish ideas, Omnicom has multiple resources for idea generation,” he said. “They also hold a lot of the more creative agencies than other holding companies.”

But the voice that matters most is the client’s, and Nancy Friedman, Visa USA vp/advertising, agrees. “As we considered doing a search to find other agency talent that could help us, clearly BBDO was working very hard on trying to solve our problem,” she said. “Because there was such incredible talent within the Omnicom family, namely Goodby and TBWA\Chiat\Day we were comfortable and willing to limit the search to Omnicom.”

There are instances when Omnicom doesn’t even bother serving up other shops: Last week’s $120 million DirecTV account move back to Deutsch after two years at BBDO New York is an example. “They just wanted to go back to Deutsch,” said one BBDO executive. “We won it without a review, and we lost it like that.”