After 32 years with Interpublic Group's Hill Holliday in the U.S., financial services company Manulife, which operates as John Hancock domestically, has hired Deloitte Digital's Heat as its global creative agency. Hill Holliday did not participate in the review.
All eyes have been on the big consultancies as they continue to encroach on traditional ad agencies' territory, particularly in media, but this could be a sign that the creative space is no safer.
"Heat's creative was by far the strongest," said Manulife Global CMO Gretchen Garrigues. "They got customer feedback on the creative they were developing [in the pitch] and it was very thoughtful and innovative. They probably benefit from the relationship they have with Deloitte because it helps them add structure to the creative side of the world in terms of research."
Mike Barrett, president of Heat, said the agency wasn't initially in the pitch, but heard about it and asked to compete. He said Heat's creative in the pitch was "kickass" but that something else helped it stand out.
"The thing that being part of Deloitte allows us to do is tap a set of resources that right now are not match able by any ad agency," he said. "There is no ad agency that knows the financial services industry better institutionally than Deloitte as a firm."
Data-driven creative is great, but Barrett said anyone can go out and buy or generate data. What Deloitte has, he said are professionals with decades of experience working on a category in a market, which allows it to bring high levels of insights to drive creative.
When asked about consultancies dipping more and more into traditional advertising, Barrett said, "We want to shake the industry at the highest level and that means big accounts and it also means figuring out how to generate true creative."
"We're not beating our chests and saying, 'We're going to destroy holding companies,'" he said. "We just have something different that we think merits consideration."
Manulife is separately considering a potential spinoff or IPO of the John Hancock unit, The Wall Street Journal reported midday Thursday.
In addition to bringing on Heat for global creative strategy and execution, the company tapped WPP's m/SIX and Wunderman for global media planning, buying and analytics. "We custom-built a team, which I led, based on Manulife/John Hancock's ask and all collaborated to win this pitch," said Seth Solomons, CEO for North America at Wunderman.
Dentsu previously worked on creative for Manulife in international markets like Asia and Canada and Mindshare for global media.
The first creative work from the new team is slated to break in the first quarter of 2018. Garrigues said the company is "very keen on upping our game from a digital standpoint," and it's in the process of figuring out other channels where the new creative will live.
John Hancock spent about $15.8 million in the U.S. on measured media in 2016, according to Kantar Media. Global spend was not immediately available.
Garrigues declined to disclose the company's marketing budget but called it significant. Manulife wants to make sure it "optimizes" its spending, particularly on the media side, she added.
While part of the new agency structure is about helping Manulife and John Hancock transform to a more "customer centric" company worldwide, Garrigues said driving business results through marketing efforts is very important.
She said the company also wants to better align Manulife and John Hancock globally. "We have an opportunity to leverage the synergies of those brands globally and make one plus one equal five instead of two," said Garrigues.