Merrill Lynch Taps Boathouse

Independent shop Boat house has landed a national TV assignment for Merrill Lynch’s Global Pri vate Client brand, which targets high-net-worth investors.

The Dedham, Mass., shop has worked with Merrill Lynch on print projects for more than a year. It was awarded the assignment without a review.

West Lockhart, a representative for the Plainsboro, N.J.-based division, stressed that “we continue to have a strong relationship with J. Walter Thompson” and said the New York agency, a unit of WPP Group, remains its lead creative resource. JWT declined comment.

“This project is a continuation of the work they’ve been doing [at Boathouse],” Lockhart said.

Boathouse founder and CEO John Connors worked with Global Private Client marketing vp Paula Polito when both were at Interpublic Group’s Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos in Boston in the 1990s. Connors’ father Jack is Hill, Holliday’s chairman and CEO. Polito did not return calls.

Neither Lockhart nor Connors would discuss the assignment, but the Boathouse work is expected to air in January. And Merrill Lynch wants image-boosting ideas in the wake of negative press from questionable stock recommendations made by some of its consultants, sources said.

The budget for the Boathouse assignment is $15-20 million, sources said. Last year, Merrill Lynch spent approximately $120 million on advertising, with roughly one quarter of that on TV, according to CMR.

Merrill Lynch has worked with Boathouse on print projects revolving around specific products and services practically since the shop launched in May 2001, but this new project represents a major advancement of that relationship, according to sources.

The Boathouse win is part of a larger trend of boutiques adding chunks of big-agency business. Other recent examples include Verizon Communications’ assignment of work to McGarry Bowen from Lowe, and Gillette’s Duracell business going to The Acme Idea Co. from BBDO.

JWT has worked for Merrill Lynch since 1998 and broke its latest TV work for the Global Private Client group in February. That effort was designed to show how Merrill Lynch’s consultants help wealthy clients simplify their lives. Tagged, “A simple fee. A simpler life,” those spots featured the voice of actor Steve Martin.