Kimberly-Clark Launches Global Creative Review, Forcing WPP to Defend a Major Account

CPG giant spends up to $800 million across brands

The company has not held a formal review in several years. Kimberly-Clark, Getty Images
Headshot of Patrick Coffee

CPG conglomerate Kimberly-Clark recently launched a global creative agency review as it seeks to restructure the roster of shops responsible for marketing its extensive brand portfolio.

The Irving, Texas, personal-care products giant, whose brands include Kleenex and Huggies, has long worked with several WPP agencies, including Ogilvy and JWT. The review now forces the world’s largest advertising company to play defense amid reports of a disappointing financial performance in 2017 that led investors to temper expectations for 2018.

“Kimberly-Clark is assessing the current agency landscape for creative services,” a spokesperson for the company said. “We regularly review our agency relationships, global and local, to ensure that we remain in touch with the latest capabilities in the industry. Beyond that, we would not be able to comment further on the status or scope of our agency relationships.”

The review also comes at a time when the company’s chief competitors, including Unilever and P&G, have made headlines for touting the benefits gained by cutting hundreds of millions from their digital marketing budgets.

According to several parties with direct knowledge of the matter, Kimberly-Clark issued a procurement-led RFP to its agency partners in early January, with responses due near the end of that month. Sources say media planning and buying duties are not in play, with Mindshare remaining the company’s chief media agency partner (though Kimberly-Clark has increasingly taken programmatic operations in-house).

In recent years, the company’s marketing leaders have expressed frustration with the traditional agency-of-record model, opting for a more fluid per-project arrangement with WPP rather than seeking to consolidate responsibility with any one network.

Multiple sources told Adweek that Ogilvy offices around the world are actively trying to retain as much of the business as possible. The agency has worked on such brands as Huggies, Pull-Ups and Kotex for several years, but Kimberly-Clark cut the scope of that work significantly in 2017. The same sources said that, while Ogilvy remains in the review, JWT—which works on Kleenex, Cottonelle and other family-care brands—was eliminated in the early rounds. VML, which has handled digital duties for related campaigns, was reportedly not involved in the pitch.

Jaime Prieto, president of global brand management at Ogilvy, currently oversees that network’s Kimberly-Clark portfolio. WPP also maintains a dedicated division consisting of all agencies that serve the account. Former team director Angela Johnson, who spent more than seven years on the business at Ogilvy, recently left to become president of mcgarrybowen New York, and it is not clear whether she has been replaced.

Spokespeople for WPP, Ogilvy, JWT, VML, VSA Partners and GroupM deferred to the client for comment. All of the other major holding groups have either declined to comment or not responded.

According to Kantar Media, Kimberly-Clark spent approximately $210 million on paid media promoting its various brands in the U.S. in 2016 and around the same amount for the first nine months of 2017.

Analysts at independent research firm COMvergence and international consultancy R3 estimated that the company spends around $400 million globally on paid media each year, with that number rising as high as $800 million when accounting for nonmonitored digital spend.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.