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
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