Prudential Financial Eyes Finalists

Prudential Financial has narrowed its search for a corporate image campaign to three agencies, and, in an unusual twist, will pay each shop several hundred thousand dollars for the idea it presents, sources said.

From time to time, marketers pay finalists a relatively modest sum — say, $30,000 — to own pitch ideas. So, the amount that Prudential is offering — which sources estimate at $200,000 to $300,000 for agency time and the idea itself — is more unusual than a payment per se.

Also, given that Prudential has its own agency, Prudential Advertising, the client conceivably could buy an idea and then hand it to that in-house shop — which is also submitting concepts in the review — to produce it. That prospect is unlikely, however, according to a source, who noted that the client intends to hire an outside agency.

Sources identified the finalists as Omnicom Group’s GSD&M Idea City in Austin, Texas, independent Droga5 and Publicis Groupe-backed Bartle Bogle Hegarty, both in New York. Client executives briefed the shops on Friday and final presentations are scheduled for late July and early August, said sources. In between, Prudential is expected to hold at least one work session with each shop.

The finalists emerged after client execs met with six agencies earlier in the month, said sources.

As explained in Prudential’s initial request for proposals, the assignment is new and amounts to a project, albeit one that’s expected to be backed by about $50 million in major media spending.

Media duties are not in play and remain in-house.

The Newark, N.J.-based client launched the search last month.

Prudential Financial offers life insurance, mutual funds, annuities and investment services, including retirement planning.

Three weeks ago, Prudential Advertising launched a new campaign featuring TV spots, billboards and Web banners. The effort touts the company’s strengths amid the lingering recession.

Ark Advisors in New York is helping to manage the review. Ark did not return calls and the client declined to comment. Prudential hopes to conclude the process in August.