Samsung Saga Drags On With More Confusion

The drama that is the tug-of-war for Samsung shows no signs of ending.

Declared victor WPP Group’s two rivals, Interpublic Groupe’s Foote Cone & Belding and Publicis Groupe, are not only still meeting with the client, but there is even more uncertainty over what WPP actually won and what it’s worth.

In a statement when it made its decision, Samsung said WPP will create, plan and buy global brand advertising and provide research, and that the WPP team’s first work would break in early 2005. But beyond noting, as a rep said, that the deal was not “exclusive,” the client provided no other details of how its global marketing assignments would be apportioned.

Executives from Cheil Communications, Samsung’s in-house marketing arm, were not in agreement about the outcome, with sources claiming that the Publicis team, led by Saatchi & Saatchi and Leo Burnett, was tapped as the original winner back in August.

Cheil discussed Publicis’ role and that of Interpublic Group incumbent FCB last week at meetings in Paris and New York, sources said.

“It is highly probable that FCB and Publicis will have opportunities to work with Samsung on product advertising in different parts of the world,” one source said, adding that client executives are “far from agreement” on what WPP is doing and not doing.

Even the size of the branding assignment—estimated at $200 million—is still being negotiated between Samsung and WPP, with sources saying it could be closer to $120 million.

The reasons for the disarray stretch back two years and are linked to WPP CEO Martin Sorrell’s extensive efforts to plant the seeds of victory.

That’s at least how long he courted then-Samsung chief marketing officer Eric Kim, who had all but promised WPP the account by the time the client reached out to holding companies in March, according to sources. (Kim left to helm marketing at Intel, which he joined this month—and which also is in the midst of a holding-company review.)

Through Kim, Sorrell was also able to begin forging ties to the powerful family members of Samsung chairman Kun-Hee Lee, son of the company’s founder.

In the review, two teams—one from Samsung, headed by Kim, and one from Cheil—devised a scoring system that included input from various global regions to rate the presentations based on strategy, creative, media and chemistry.

Sources said that in August, over Kim’s objections, the teams chose Publicis, which had scored highest, particularly in creative. Neither Kim nor Sorrell were available for comment at press time.

But Sorrell’s relentlessness in cementing the bonds he had forged led to Publicis’ ouster in favor of the WPP team led by J. Walter Thompson and Red Cell.

“Everyone was unhappy,” one source said. “This was not the process that had been agreed upon.”

A rep at Publicis declined comment. Reps for WPP and FCB referred calls to Cheil in New York, but executives there were unavailable for comment.