The merger between Mullen and Long Haymes Carr hit a rough patch last week as Hanes, a longtime client of the latter, threw its estimated $10-15 million account into review.
"As our business has grown and evolved and the retail environment becomes more challenging, we want to assure ourselves that we have the best creative possible," said Peggy Carter, vp of corporate affairs for Hanes parent Sara Lee Branded Apparel.
The review of the business will be restricted to Sara Lee roster shops. LHC (now Mullen/LHC), based in Winston-Salem, N.C., held the account for nearly 20 years.
A decision on whether to hire a consultant to oversee the process has not been made, said Carter.
Mullen/LHC has been invited to participate, she added. Shop officials, including CEO Joe Grimaldi, referred questions to the client. Neither a deadline for completing the process nor a list of participating Sara Lee agencies was available at press time, but Leo Burnett in Chicago and Temerlin McClain in Irving, Texas, are perceived as front-runners for the business.
The main reason for the review appears to be client dissatisfaction over Mullen/LHC's recent creative ideas. An agency team, led by chief creative officer Edward Boches, a few weeks ago created new ads that Hanes officials deemed lacking, sources said. Hanes' senior managers have been unhappy with LHC's creative "for a couple of years" and want more "bold and aggressive marketing," which the new ads did not contain, said a source close to the situation.
Insisting the review is unrelated to the January merger of Wenham, Mass.-based Mullen and LHC, Carter said, "The timing only has to do with us and our planning cycle. In fact, we think the merger is a positive."
Sources disagreed. "Hanes was furious over the takeover and in no way signed up for Mullen," said one former agency exec. The merger was mandated by shop parent Lowe Group.
-- with Alicia Griswold and David Gianatasio