We Hear: Citibank Refuses to Play Nice in Media Review

By Patrick Coffee 

Last week we learned that Sir Martin Sorrell has been making appearances at all of WPP’s big media pitches around the world, with or without his personalized Coke can.

The underlying story is that everyone and his corporate brother is currently holding a media agency review; the newest member of the party would appear to be Kraft Foods, which Martin and WPP would love to steal away from Publicis Groupe’s Starcom.

So there are a lot of media pitches going down this summer–and some of them have unsurprisingly gotten political. Starcom, for example, currently finds itself stuck between a big bank and a credit card.

The agency is participating in two down-to-the-wire two-party media reviews: Visa (incumbent OMD) and Citibank (defender MEC). There’s a problem, though. Citibank insists that it will NOT award its business to any holding company–not just agency–that also works for a credit card company other than its preferred partner, MasterCard.

The Visa business is worth an estimated $200 million worldwide, and Citibank is more than twice as valuable. Citi went the usual route and launched a “roster-only” review, and its unofficial policy has created a potential conflict for Publicis and Starcom.

The Visa review started first, so it will also presumably end first–but what will Starcom (and Citi) do if Visa goes with Publicis over incumbent OMD? What if Citi wants to break with WPP’s MEC and give the whole business to SMG, which already handles its media in at least one country outside the U.S.?

Will the agency try to convince the client that it can serve two competing masters at once, or will Citi’s stance end up affecting who wins the business?

This consolidated clusterfuck reminds us of a few things:

  • The world of Big Finance is an incestuous mess
  • Clients always make things more difficult than they have to be
  • Media reviews will continue to score fourth place in every “most boring things in the world” poll right behind watching paint dry, sitting through the Netflix buffering screen and waiting for the “skip this ad” countdown to end on YouTube