MLB Hires Hill Holliday for Creative, Media

Interpublic Shop Replaces Sibling McCann

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In the thick of its post-season play, Major League Baseball has hired a new advertising agency.

Interpublic Group of Cos.' Hill Holliday, Boston, will take over lead creative and media duties after a review that began this summer. Hill Holliday replaces sibling McCann Erickson, New York, which handled the MLB account for nearly eight years but declined to defend.

Tim Brosnan, MLB exec VP-business, told Ad Age that the organization began discussing the possibility of looking for new agency partners during the 2009 post-season, and by the All-Star Game in July of this year, it decided to launch a search. "Sometimes you reaffirm your commitment to a certain direction, and sometimes you realize that things have changed and you need to change your business practice with them," said Mr. Brosnan. "We thought that, at the very least, we wanted to hear from other agencies."

The review was led by Mr. Brosnan and MLB's chief marketing officer Jacqueline Parkes. "We're our own consultants on a lot of business issues ... We like to be responsible for the decisions that we make," Mr. Brosnan said. He declined to identify the shops with which MLB held conversations, but said they cast a wide net based on suggestions from friends and partners about who the most effective and creative shops are today.

The brief agencies were given was to help MLB create a movement to help capture the enthusiasm of all kinds of baseball fans -- be they fervent, passive, lapsed or new ones. According to Mr. Brosnan, the challenge MLB faces today is evolving its brand to communicate with fans in a changing media environment while still staying true to its traditional, American roots.

"We're a game with enormous tradition and a brand that stands for, among other things, Americana and patriotism," he said. "Our product is what it is, but we have to use social media and the era of media communication to our advantage. ... The question is, how do you take a property like ours that has such an authentic place in this country's culture and make it resonate in this minute-to-minute" consumption cycle?

"The fact we chose Hill Holliday shows how they hit the mark," said Mr. Brosnan, who described the shop's pitch as "precision-like in its weaving of strategy and creative." "It was the singular best presentation by an agency to us in the 15 years I've been sitting at the table. The most impressive part was that they took a long view -- talking about [MLB's marketing plan] over five, six and eight years. They knew what they liked about baseball and what consumers like about baseball."

At Hill Holliday, which has had an otherwise quiet year on the new business front, MLB joins a roster that includes Dunkin Donuts, Chili's, Bank of America, Liberty Mutual and Novartis. In 2009, MLB spent $18.5 million in domestic measured media, according to Kantar Media, with the bulk of that amount devoted to brand advertising and cable network buys.

Some elements of Hill Holliday's new work for MLB could start surfacing during the World Series, but a full campaign won't be unraveled until next year's baseball season.

While playoff ratings on TBS have fallen since last year, Fox has seen strong sales for post-season baseball. Earlier this month it reported 90% of its ad inventory sold for both the coming World Series and the preceding League Championship Series it broadcasts each year. Marketers that will have a big presence in the game include General Motors' Chevrolet and Anheuser-Busch InBev.