Nail-Biting Time In A Batch Of Big Reviews

new york More than $350 million in billings may be awarded this week in two high-stakes global creative reviews: British Airways and Unilever’s Omo. Interestingly, WPP Group’s JWT and Publicis Groupe-backed Bartle Bogle Hegarty are going head to head for both accounts.

JWT could be under particular pressure from its parent company, as WPP’s Berlin Cameron/Red Cell lost $200 million worth of Coca-Cola business last week to independent Wieden + Kennedy.

JWT handles roughly one-third of the estimated $250 million Omo account; Interpublic Group’s Lowe handles the lion’s share. Both stand to lose their portion or increase their stake in this winner-take-all review. But a potential spoiler is BBH, which is on the Unilever roster but doesn’t handle the laundry-detergent brand.

BBH and JWT are also vying for BA, along with independent M&C Saatchi and Omnicom Group’s DDB. BA spends about $100 million annually on advertising.

Should JWT lose its piece of Omo or fail to win BA, October will already prove to be a particularly bitter month for WPP only two weeks into it. The revenue hit on Coke Classic is around $15 million, while BA and Omo represent $10 million and $20-25 million in revenue, respectively, said sources. Both decisions are expected to come down this week.

In the Omo review, Unilever is seeking to consolidate business in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, South America and Africa at a single agency. Unilever is one of Lowe’s biggest clients, and a relatively new global management team led by worldwide CEO Tony Wright is under pressure to deliver for its financially challenged parent.

In a conference call with industry analysts a week and a half ago, IPG CEO Michael Roth said of Lowe: “What was once a great creative shop had been compromised by overexpansion and multiple mergers.” He added, however, that the “new team has made real headway in stabilizing revenue. We continue to view this as a work in progress but are encouraged by early results.”

Last week, Lowe split with client Century 21, which moved its business to independent mcgarrybowen without a review.

Omo also is a test for Unilever, which has used different strategies to advertise the brand in various markets around the world. The brand even goes by different names in Latin America (Ala), the U.K. and Ireland (Persil) and other parts of Europe (Skip). The regional names still have value and will remain, but Unilever, in keeping with its desire to act more globally, particularly with bigger brands, wants to unite them under a single strategic concept, which is encapsulated in the line, “Dirt is good.”

Omo and BA are but two of numerous big-ticket contests expected to be decided this fall following a frenetic summer of RFPs, credentials meetings and briefings.

At least five other sizable reviews representing nearly $500 million in billings are hanging in the balance, with pitches just a few weeks away (Office Depot, LensCrafters, BMW and U.S. Army) or creative ideas already in testing (Pfizer’s Lipitor).

On deck, with seven semifinalists, is Washington Mutual, which is looking at shops in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle to handle its $100 million creative account. A cut to finalists is expected next week.

Regardless of the outcomes in these battles, the revenue gains (and losses) will not likely be felt before 2006. Still, the contenders find themselves in a prime position to strut or stumble into the new year.

Berlin Cameron’s Coke loss will no doubt trigger layoffs at the New York agency, and sources expect relatively senior staffers to be affected. The shop remains on the Coke roster, however, with smaller brands such as Mello Yello, Pibb Extra and Nestea Cool (a joint venture with Nestlé). And the shop is still competing for a global “iconic” Coke assignment against Wieden, said sources. That pitch involves multiple offices of Red Cell, including New York and Madrid.

The agency referred calls to Coke.

Coke Classic made Berlin Cameron a national player in the U.S. market after years of ups and downs and experience on a handful of choice but relatively small accounts. After wresting the account from IPG’s McCann Erickson in February 2003, Berlin found itself invited to national and global reviews, winning business from the likes of Samsung and Pfizer (Zyrtec).

This year, however, the shop came up short in the finals for Jaguar, Revlon and Intel (in which it was part of a WPP team). It also failed to make the finals of BMW’s $70-80 million national review.