Sprint Splits with DigitasLBi Chicago, Takes All Direct/Email Marketing Work In-House

By Patrick Coffee 

Sprint continued the gradual in-house consolidation of its marketing work by ending a five-plus year relationship with DigitasLBi Chicago. The client’s internal Yellow Fan Studios will handle all work previously with Digitas as of April 1.

The Publicis agency had been working with Sprint since late 2011, when it won a review to handle digital creative, brand strategy, digital buying/analytics and “offline advertising.” (The business had previously been with GS&P.)

As we hear it, Sprint gradually moved those responsibilities away from DigitasLBi. Social went first, followed by digital creative and digital media. The final portion of the business was direct/email marketing, which purportedly accounted for more than $10 million in annual revenue for Publicis.

DigitasLBi also hired new executives to manage the business including former Wunderman SVP Donna Biernadski (now with Northwestern University) and Energy BBDO EVP Davin Power, who replaced current UNLIMITED CEO Brian Nienhaus before becoming president at gravity labs last fall.

This move, of course, is in keeping with the telecom giant’s ongoing attempts to reduce its overall marketing spend by launching Yellow House and assigning more work to that team. It started with production, and Sprint eventually dropped creative AOR Deutsch entirely and sent its business to Droga5 without a review. According to at least one source, the agency was not aware of what its client’s marketing department was doing at any given moment toward the end of that stint.

Today Sprint confirmed that its relationship with DigitasLBi will end next month but declined to comment or elaborate. An agency spokesperson also confirmed the story and told us that the shift will not have a direct effect on head count at its Chicago office, though dozens of employees have been working on the business. They were alerted at an all-staff meeting this afternoon.

Around January’s CES event, Sprint CEO Maurice Claure began publicly discussing a potential merger with T-Mobile as Sprint launched its first media agency review in a decade (the company looks to spend around $600 million on paid media this year).

Last week, a New York Times report added fuel to that fire by noting that Japanese investor Masayoshi Son is “betting on Trump” and that he and his team at SoftBank, which owns Sprint, are “weighing several major possible deals for … the struggling American wireless operator.”