Sprint Looks for New Creative Lead Agency

Search said to focus on TV work

Sprint is looking for a new creative lead agency, sources said. The review is said to be focused on above-the line marketing, much of which is spent on TV.

The telecommunications company spent more than $765 million in media last year, including $448 million on TV time, according to Kantar Media. And in the first quarter of this year, $138 million of Sprint's total $188 million spend went toward TV.

In late 2011, the Overland Park, Kansas company unexpectedly shifted its account from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners to “Team Sprint,” a unit comprised of Publicis Groupe agencies and led by DigitasLBi. While the Publicis digital shop initially worked with corporate sibling Leo Burnett, which produced TV ads, late last year the marketer moved that assignment to start-up Figliulo & Partners. (ARC/Leo Burnett continues to handle Sprint’s shopper marketing.)

It's not clear if the current search also includes digital work handled by DigitasLBi.

The agency search is not entirely a surprise given critical comments the CEO of Sprint’s new parent Softbank made at the beginning of this year: Writing in a January guest column for Nikkei Asian Review, Masayoshi Son said, “At one recent meeting, I learned that our advertising at Sprint was not cost-effective. This made me quite angry. Sprint spends a large amount of money on advertising every year, but its effects have been almost negligible.” The executive continued: “I directed the Sprint executives to terminate all existing contracts with the company's advertising agencies. We will shortly start from scratch on advertising, with new agents also making proposals.”

Softbank is making other changes: In August, Sprint appointed Marcelo Claure president, CEO. The founder and chief of Softbank unit Bightstar replaced Dan Hesse, who joined Sprint as president, CEO in 2007.

DigitasLBi and Figliulo, started last fall by former TBWA\Chiat\Day New York chief creative officer Mark Figliulo, could not be reached for comment. A Burnett rep declined to comment, referring calls to Sprint execs who did not respond to an inquiry.