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Going Off The Roster To Handpick 'the Best'

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Global marketers continued to look beyond their agency rosters last week, as MDC Communications' Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners got a crack at a piece of Coca-Cola, and Procter & Gamble considered Publicis Groupe's Fallon in Minneapolis and WPP Group's Berlin Cameron/Red Cell for ad assignments, sources said.

It used to be that a lead agency needed to worry about a wholesale review of its accounts, but in recent years even lead shops have the added anxiety of clients parceling out projects to off-roster shops. Sometimes big clients go outside their existing relationships simply out of a desire for more choices; sometimes it's the industry's über-influence: consolidation. And sometimes it's because they want to work with a particular creative superstar.

"The reason we have so many agencies is that we're committed to finding the best creative wherever we can," said Coke rep Susan McDermott, who wouldn't comment on the KB+P assignment. "It doesn't matter if it's a small agency or a big agency, a new agency or one that's part of a network. It's about the ideas they have and the understanding they can offer on our brands."

In October 2001, Coke pared its agency roster to shops largely belonging to Interpublic Group and WPP Group, cutting Leo Burnett, D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles and Cliff Freeman & Partners. But over the past few months, the world's best-known brand has been slowly expanding that roster to include shops such as MDC's Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Publicis Groupe's Publicis and—again—Burnett. The KB+P project, sources said, is an assignment to launch a new energy drink aimed at women. The nature of the P&G projects could not be determined.

P&G, which in 2002 said it would rely on Grey Global Group and Publicis for its worldwide advertising, added Wieden + Kennedy to its roster in June, giving the independent shop its $10 million Eukanuba account and a Canadian project for Ivory soap.

In P&G's case, it's about choice, said one source familiar with the marketer. "They tend to look at a holding company as one [vendor]. Their options have been whittled down over the years, involuntarily, due to consolidation. ... They have a drive to work with the best vendors ... [and] one way to do that is experiment."

The packaged-goods giant declared fealty to Publicis Groupe and Grey Global Group shortly after the former shuttered P&G agency D'Arcy in September 2002. But even that agency landscape has continued to change. The most recent notable change came when Grey Global was purchased by WPP, whose agencies work with Unilever. P&G executives were unavailable for comment on their off-roster outreach.

"There are pros and cons to the holding-company model," said David Beals, president and CEO of consultant Jones Lundin Beals in Chicago. "Some clients who put all their business in one basket find inconsistency from agency group to agency group."

Another motivation for giants such as P&G to go off-roster is to demonstrate a commitment to cutting-edge creative. For the past two years, the client has sent executives to Cannes to give them a better idea of what work wins awards. The Wieden, Fallon and Berlin Cameron additions are a natural outgrowth of that networking in the south of France, said one source. And awarding brands like Eukanuba, which traditionally have seen little spending, are low risk with a potentially high reward.

"There's a power to big ideas that sometimes supercedes traditional marketing disciplines," said TBWA\Chiat\Day president Robert LePlae, whose agency has been added to the Pepsi and Anheuser-Busch rosters in the past year. "You're not seeing [clients] dump their core agencies, but [you're] seeing them looking to the big idea that transcends basic marketing."

There's also the factor of stockpiling talent. Coke's decision to award the Zero assignment to CP+B in March gave the marketer a chance to work with a creative hot shop, while simultaneously guaranteeing that the competition couldn't. Ditto P&G's enlistment of Wieden, said Arthur Anderson, co-founder and principal of consultant Morgan Anderson. "Some of the new brands need more nimble, opportunistic kinds of agencies," he said.

Another factor is access to a particular creative executive. Pepsi executives had become more enamored of TBWA worldwide creative director Lee Clow after his agency completed a Super Bowl spot for a Pepsi/iTunes promotion, sources have said. The response from that ad helped the shop get back in the door when it put two brands, Diet Pepsi and Pepsi One, up for review, sources said.

In addition, adding a few agencies can spur the roster shops, said Anderson. "It may be that it ... puts a fire in their belly." — with Staff Reports