The Showdown For J&J’s Beijing Olympics Campaign

Executives from five agencies are gathered in China this week to pitch what could prove to be the most significant Johnson & Johnson assignment put in review since Deutsch won Tylenol in 2003. Call it the Battle for Beijing.

Up for grabs is J&J’s sponsorship campaign for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a far-reaching effort that could benefit the winner as much as it could hurt the loser. The contenders are Lowe, McCann Erickson, TBWA\Chiat\Day, JWT and Ogilvy & Mather, sources said. Although the campaign will be limited to that country, sources say China represents a huge growth area for J&J—as it does for many advertisers—and winning this campaign will put an agency in the catbird seat as the company stakes a bigger claim in China’s burgeoning consumer market.

“This is really big because it’s corporate, it’s J&J, it’s China, and it’s the Olympics,” said an executive involved in the pitch. Said another, what they want is “a good expression of J&J that will have currency with the Chinese.”

Several sources characterized the assignment more broadly as an opportunity to impress corporate decision-makers such as vp of corporate affairs Brian Perkins and vp of global advertising and marketing communications Joe McCarthy, a former global ad director with Nike who arrived at J&J in October 2005 after a brief stint at StrawberryFrog as managing director, New York.

“Joe [McCarthy] is smart and committed to making change not for change’s sake, but where change is needed,” said Val DiFebo, president, Deutsch, New York. “He will be instrumental in generating big, holistic, integrated ideas that reach consumers at relevant touchpoints.”

Another executive said McCarthy “knows the power of good creative. As an athlete, he wants to be a winner. That’s his motif. He wants a solid team with good teamwork.”

For some shops, impressing this client is about more than a new-business opportunity.

J&J recently completed an evaluation of its roster shops, and one source said Interpublic Group’s Lowe, which handles more than $400 million of J&J business globally, fell from a “strong” status in past years to “just OK” this year. The impending loss of Andy Langer, Lowe’s global cd on the account, to Omnicom Group’s Roberts & Tarlow also doesn’t bode well for the relationship. Said one source, Lowe needs to “show well, if not win,” as a poor performance could further diminish the shop’s standing with this top-three global client.

Meanwhile, sister shop McCann Erickson, which handles an estimated $350 million in J&J business across 50 countries, is one of the client’s main agencies in China and has three offices there. Naturally, coming up short in this competition would hurt its standing there.

And for two non-roster agencies, Omnicom Group’s TBWA\Chiat\Day and WPP Group’s JWT, the significance of the China pitch would be to gain a very large foot in the door of a Fortune 100 company. Deutsch itself was not a roster agency when it won Tylenol, but has since added interactive work on Immodium and Motrin, among other assignments.

Rounding out the crowd in China is another roster shop, WPP’s Ogilvy & Mather, which is said to have a strong presence in the country, unlike Lowe, whose presence there was characterized as “mediocre” by one source.