Arnold Braces for Competition

Venturing where most local agencies feared to tread, Allen & Gerritsen and Modernista! last week emerged as challengers to incumbent Arnold in a review for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Tobacco Control Program.

Budgeted at $8-14 million and mandated by state law to go into review periodically, the DPH has been a signature account for Arnold, which added the business in early 1998 when it acquired crosstown rival Houston Herstek Favat. This will be Arnold’s first DPH defense.

Arnold was viewed by most potential competitors as “unbeatable” based on its size and resources —it is nearly 10 times larger than A&G and Modernista! combined— and its track record of success on the account. Arnold’s “Make smoking history” campaigns for the DPH have won numerous industry awards and helped the shop add work for the American Legacy Foundation’s national anti-smoking initiative. Large players Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos; Mullen; and Holland Mark all passed on the DPH review.

Even Modernista! initially said it wouldn’t pitch, but executives at the 18-month-old Boston shop, fresh from wins that include the Gap, MTV and General Motors’ Hummer, reconsidered. A key reason, sources said, may be the desire of Modernista! co-founder Lance Jensen to go head-to-head with his former employers at Arnold, especially chief creative Ron Lawner. Jensen, who helped craft Arnold’s Volkswagen ads in the late 1990s, did not return calls. Modernista! managing director Matt Lindley said: “It’s a sizable piece of business. We just decided to go for it.” An Arnold representative said agency executives will not comment while the review is ongoing.

A&G, Watertown, Mass., is best known as a business-to-business specialist with a modest creative profile. The shop has handled some medical business but has no experience with state accounts. Even so, A&G believes it can present fresh ideas and insights to the DPH, according to agency president Andrew Graff.

Industry watchers say both challengers hope at least to gain some recognition from the pitch and position themselves for state accounts in the future. Finalists will be invited for presentations the week of July 9.