GLOBAL BRIEF: Unilever strengthens media’s role in dollars 515m review - Unilever is making media the driving force behind its branding By Claire Beale.

The US media shop, Botway, might figure on any acquisitive agency’s shopping list. In a market where decent-sized media independents are exceedingly thin on the ground, the New York-based Botway Group’s client list - which includes Bayer and Abbott Laboratories - would bring it to the attention of many agencies seeking an injection of clout.

The US media shop, Botway, might figure on any acquisitive agency’s

shopping list. In a market where decent-sized media independents are

exceedingly thin on the ground, the New York-based Botway Group’s client

list - which includes Bayer and Abbott Laboratories - would bring it to

the attention of many agencies seeking an injection of clout.



But for Omnicom and Interpublic Group, the two parties said to be

bidding for control of Botway, the agency has a rather more valuable

card in its pack: Unilever.



Unilever has now kicked off a wide-ranging review of its dollars 515

million US media account and has lined up four agencies to pitch for the

business: WPP’s MindShare, IPG’s Western Initiative Media, Omnicom’s

Optimum Media Direction and Botway.



As Unilever’s key TV buying agency, Botway not only has a strong track

record with the advertiser in the US but would offer both IPG and

Omnicom an injection of TV buying muscle at a time when the emphasis is

switching to media clout in the US market.



Botway would clearly be a useful addition to the pitching power of both

parties, but the agency’s chances of winning the business on its own

look less than assured; Unilever seems to be aligning its media business

into two main camps around the world.



Western Initiative has long been the Unilever media incumbent in a

number of crucial European markets such as the UK and Germany, but

MindShare has snaffled the business in several territories this year,

adding Germany, Italy and China to its Unilever business in Brazil and

India.



Yet Unilever is setting nothing in stone for its US review. It has not

even defined the parameters of the review itself, asking the pitching

agencies for advice on how the business should be structured.



Stage one of the review, conducted this week, asks the shortlisted

agencies how they believe Unilever could better organise its media,

whether the review should seek to centralise all planning and buying

into a single agency or whether to keep strategic planning aligned with

the creative agencies. The proposals from stage one will determine the

nature of the second leg of the pitch.



The US pitch will also revolve around the new strategic approach to

media being developed by Unilever around the world.



Along with the brief, the pitching US agencies have been sent a document

called Advanced Brand Communication, which sets out Unilever’s new

thinking on media issues. Media strategy will increasingly be the

starting point for all of Unilever’s brand communications, with creative

briefings and even marketing policy taking their lead from there.



Even for an incumbent like Botway, then, the US review requires a focus

on the future rather than the past. Whatever Botway’s future and whoever

wins the pitch, Unilever’s US media business will never look the same

again.



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