MasterCard is set to consolidate all U.S. PR and corporate communications work within Omnicom's Ketchum following a competitive review, Ad Age has learned.
IPG incumbent Weber Shandwick competed with Ketchum in the final round. Initially, the brief went out to independents Ruder Finn, Edelman, Taylor Strategy and APCO, as well as Next Fifteen's Bite and WPP's Public Strategies and Cohn & Wolfe. After the initial briefing, at least a few of these agencies decided not to participate, according to people familiar with the matter.
Cohn & Wolfe has supported various digital and social efforts for the company, APCO has provided reputation and issues-management services and Taylor has worked on various consumer efforts. The move is a blow to incumbent Weber Shandwick. The agency has worked with MasterCard for at least a few years and continues to work with the company in various global markets, including Asia and Europe.
Andrew Bowins, senior VP and group head of external and worldwide communications at MasterCard, told Ad Age that Ketchum will support U.S. and corporate PR business. "This is part of a continued evolution of communications at MasterCard to advance the business through consumer and customer-engagement models that allow MasterCard to integrate digital, social, online and traditional communication vehicles in a manner that engages people, merchants and governments in a more meaningful way," he said.
"As we move into 2013 beyond," Mr. Bowins said, "we will continue to energize our corporate and U.S. PR programs and leverage all channels to meet our goals while creating direct and high-impact engagements that help the MasterCard value story come to life and be top of mind."
He added that the company is focused on "...the public dialogue around the benefits of a world that is moving beyond cash and the merits of digital payment and card-based systems. It's a dialogue that moves beyond traditional B2B conversations and places business and consumers at the center of the discussions."
Mr. Bowins explained that while Ketchum's remit does not dictate local and regional strategy needs outside the U.S., the firm will "help build program frameworks, shape strategy and develop content and engagement models across channels."
He didn't indicate specifically how the change will affect the incumbents but said, "Our incumbent agencies, Weber, APCO and Taylor, have been exceptional partners that have helped build our foundation today."
"Reputation and issues management is part of the U.S. and corporate remit, as is consumer," he added, implying that those PR duties, typically handled by the other firms, will be consolidated within Ketchum. "Ketchum will serve as AOR on these fronts."
The move breaks the company's tight circle of IPG shops, created when the company in 2010 ended its decade-plus relationship with Omnicom Group's GSD&M to consolidate U.S. media-planning and -buying business with Interpublic Group of Cos.' Universal McCann. The selection had united MasterCard's creative, media, PR and digital accounts under the IPG umbrella, with McCann Erickson Worldwide handling creative, R/GA managing digital, Weber Shandwick running PR duties and Octagon handling sports marketing and partnerships.
In addition to Mr. Bowins, the competitive review also likely involved Seth Eisen, senior business leader of communication in the U.S. markets. According to his LinkedIn profile, Mr. Eisen has worked at a variety of major PR firms, including Ketchum early in his career, as well as WPP's Cohn & Wolfe, Publicis Groupe 's MSLGroup and independent Waggener Edstrom. Mr. Bowins emphasized the review process was "comprehensive."
For Ketchum, it's also a return to the financial services big leagues, as the agency had worked with Visa for a number of years in the past. It's an accomplishment at a time when there aren't many accounts with seven-figure PR budgets up for bid.
MasterCard spent $119 million on U.S. advertising in 2011, a 4.1% decrease from 2010, according to Kantar Media.