Microsoft Tells Agencies What They Must Do to Win Its Coveted Global Account

Spends more than $1 billion annually in media

Microsoft is in the middle of reinventing itself—and it wants the agencies vying for its global creative and media business to be open to change, too. 


The tech giant last year moved toward a more centralized operation, including its marketing functions. That shift triggered the global review, which is the biggest pitch in advertising right now.

Microsoft’s RFP (which Adweek obtained from a participant in the review) provides a detailed look at how the company aims to overhaul its approach to marketing—shifting from product-specific ads to broader consumer and business-oriented campaigns.

Microsoft is searching for an agency team that “optimizes talent, creates process and execution efficiencies, and gives Microsoft the best leverage in the marketplace,” the RFP stresses.

Particularly revealing, the document states that Microsoft “believes a holding company model consolidating most of its work (about 80 percent) with one or two holding companies” is the formula for success.

Whether the new “One Microsoft” approach takes root inside a $77.8 billion company with eight business units that previously operated autonomously remains an open question. Equally challenging on the advertising front is that Microsoft, while a dominant tech force, is not exactly known as the most gifted marketer.

“For whatever reason, they’ve never found a way to tell a broad brand story that at the same time supports its product services the way IBM does,” said Len Stern, co-founder of brand consultancy SS+K in New York. “They are a great company with great talent and great products, but they need great marketing.”

Microsoft, for its part, maintains that its ad goals are attainable.

"The ability to tell more cohesive stories to consumers that are not simply related to a single individual product leads us to obviously look at what are the right partners to be able to think in a new and different way to reflect the way we want consumers to both experience and engage with our products," new chief marketing officer Chris Capossela told Adweek. "And then, obviously, how to communicate to them so they see a different kind of Microsoft than they have in the past."

Microsoft—which spends more than $1 billion in media each year globally—would be a huge prize for any holding company. Teams from Publicis Groupe, WPP, Interpublic and Dentsu are all jockeying to claim some $100 million in revenue that’s up for grabs.

The stakes are just as high for Microsoft, which last month named insider Satya Nadella to succeed Steve Ballmer as CEO and just last week made further changes in top management that affect marketing. Mark Penn, one of two evps of marketing, shifted to chief strategy officer, while the other, Tami Reller, left the company after 13 years. Those moves enabled company veteran Capossela to became CMO, meaning that a role previously shared by two individuals is now handled by one—as if to further underscore the company’s move toward centralization.

Even as Microsoft’s top executive ranks were being shuffled last week, the holding company teams went about their first round of meetings with the firm’s executives at their Washington, D.C., offices, according to sources. Next up: China capabilities presentations in Shanghai in a few weeks.

Microsoft aims to complete its search next month, following a final round of presentations.

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