BofA Losing Taste for All Omnicom, All the Time

Broad Relationship With Holding Company Comes to End as Bank Put Media Account Into Play

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Bank of America, once a pre-eminent case study for how the holding-company model can handle all the needs of a major marketer, is ending its exclusive relationship with Omnicom Group, which for the past two years has handled most of the bank's marketing business.

BofA said Friday it is putting its media-planning and -buying duties into review. Prometheus, a unit of Omnicom's OMD, is the incumbent on the account. BofA spent $234 million in domestic measured media, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

Promoting corporate responsibility
BofA will tap a consultancy to handle the search this month, said spokesman Joe Goode. Prometheus will be invited to participate in the review, and the account is expected to be awarded sometime in the first quarter of 2008. Meanwhile, Interpublic's Hill Holliday, which snagged some creative business earlier this year, could see its BofA duties get fatter; the bank has reached out to the Boston-based agency to take on additional responsibilities surrounding the marketing of corporate social responsibility at BofA. Bank of America has asked Omnicom to present ideas for how it could function as a lead agency, serving as strategic and creative partner and brand steward. Under that model, BBDO could continue to work with siblings such as Rapp Collins for direct, but it may also have to begin working with partners outside of the holding-company confines.

"We have been pleased with BBDO's work in developing and operating our 'Bank of Opportunity' brand positioning," Mr. Goode said.

But pleased as BofA might be with the agency, the broader Omnicom relationship clearly has run its course. "The holding-company model limited our ability to align the best agencies and capabilities to our diverse set of businesses," BofA Chief Marketing Officer Anne Finucane said in an e-mail.

Omnicom won the bank's marketing-services business from rival Interpublic Group of Cos. in August 2005 following a shootout that also included WPP Group. More than a year later, however, cracks were showing in the relationship.

In early 2007, BofA moved a slice of the business back to Interpublic, awarding Hill Holliday marketing duties for its global wealth- and investment-management division. The business had been at Omnicom shop Doremus.

Not a fan
At that time, executives familiar with the bank said Ms. Finucane, a former Hill Holliday executive who took over as BofA's CMO and Northeast president in 2006, wasn't a fan of the holding-company setup.

An Omnicom spokeswoman referred calls seeking comment to the client.

Relatively few marketers choose to put all their marketing eggs in a single basket. Two that do are Ford Motor Co., which works with WPP Group, and PepsiCo, which works with Omnicom. Computer maker Dell is conducting a holding-company review that's down to Interpublic and WPP.

But most marketers prefer to take a best-in-class approach when selecting agencies. "What works better is for us to choose the agencies," Mr. Goode said. "While the holding-company model did provide us with some operational efficiencies, the approach limited our ability to align the best agencies and capabilities for our diverse set of businesses."

The holding-company structure, he added, "created some unanticipated complexities and unnecessary organizational layers."