Inside the Unilever Media Pitch

RFP Outlines Process, Contenders; Gives Media 101 Lesson
NEW YORK–Agency contenders in Unilever’s $700 million U.S. media review received their marching orders last week as the Dutch-Anglo conglomerate issued a 21-page request for proposals.
The document obtained by Adweek states that “all current Unilever aligned agency media” partners, identified as The Botway Co., IPG, WPP and Omnicom, have been invited to pitch the business.
The participants, as expected, are WPP’s Mindshare, Interpublic Group’s Western Initiative, Omnicom’s Optimum Media Direction and incumbent The Botway Group, which handles the bulk of Unilever’s U.S. media account.
Unilever’s request for proposal, or in the company’s words “request for a point of view on how Unilever U.S. can optimize agency media re- sources,” was sent out by Brad Simmons, vp/director of Unilever U.S. Media. It contains the typical brief outlining the approach and timing of the review. In addition, the package contains a 17-page document that the company describes as a guidebook for creating “Advanced Brand Communication” or ABC. The ABC guide offers a basic media lesson and is a primer for Unilever staff on how to develop a media strategy, with an emphasis on integration. “There was a time when commercials broadcast on national network television met 90% of our brand communication needs. That is no longer the case.” The guide identifies direct marketing, public relations, product placement, “interactive outdoor sites” and electronic media as new options and “better opportunities.”
The ABC guide was attached, said one source, in order to familiarize the agencies with Unilever’s direction.
According to the four-page brief, the review will be conducted in two stages. During the first stage, Unilever will solicit POVs from contenders on how to better organize and define media responsibilities. One option stated by the document is the “consolidation of all media planning and buying–a total Unilever Media AOR serving all Unilever’s media needs.”
Stage one presentations will be held at Lever House on Nov. 8, 9, or 10. Based on a review of those ideas, some or all participants will be asked to compete in the next stage and those advancing will receive a new brief. The specifics of stage two of the review will be determined after the first stage.
The review is widely viewed as a showdown between IPG’s Western Initiative Worldwide and WPP’s Mindshare. Western holds most of Unilever’s media business in Europe, but Mindshare has been cutting into that recently by beating Western for accounts in Germany and Italy. This year, Mindshare also scored Unilever’s media account in China, adding it to its sizable Latin American and Asia responsibilities.
In order to strengthen their hands in the review, more than one holding company has looked into acquiring family-owned Botway. One executive called the company’s asking price a “king’s ransom” but acknowledged that Botway’s experience and relationship with Unilever does represent a strong advantage. Last week, sources said that IPG is in talks with Botway and that a deal or partnership with Western appeared likely.
For Mindshare and OMD, which are both more established overseas, the Unilever pitch is a test. OMD has yet to make its mark here, while Mindshare is so new that it technically doesn’t exist yet. Sources said representatives from the media departments of J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather will be attending. Interestingly, OMD is run by Daryl Simms, the former Prcoter & Gamble media executive that consolidated $1.2 billion in media at MediaVest. At the time, the MacManus buying arm was headed by Irwin Gotlieb, the new chief of Mindshare.
Stage 1–Media Partner POV/Internal Unilever Agreement
Solicitation to participants–Week of Oct. 18, 1999
Recommendation presentations–Nov. 8, 9 or 10, 1999
Internal agreement–Weeks of Nov. 8 & 15, 1999
Stage 2–Final Media Review
Brief to selected participants–Friday, Nov. 19, 1999
Presentations to Unilever–Dec. 14 or 15, 1999
Q&A exchange–Dec. 16-31, 1999
Recommendation formulation and FNA/HPC approval–Jan 1-15, 2000