PHD Poised to Win Unilever Global Planning Business

Move Comes as Marketer Steps Up Advertising Creativity

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Unilever is set to award its global media-planning business to Omnicom's PHD after a six-month review, Ad Age has learned.

The U.K.-based shop beat Unilever's U.S. media-buying agency, WPP's Mindshare, in the final round of the pitch, which began at the end of last year. Unilever initially invited its worldwide incumbents, including Mindshare (North America and Western Europe), Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative (Latin America) and Omnicom's PHD (China, Central Europe), among other agencies, to pitch for the global-planning business. Mindshare has worked on Unilever communications planning in North America, Western Europe and elsewhere since the late 1990s, when both the agency and company were among pioneers in the field.

The agencies either referred calls for comment to Unilever or could not be reached by press time. Unilever could not be immediately reached for comment.

The current review began less than a year after Luis Di Como succeeded Laura Klauberg as senior-VP global media and two years after Unilever completed its last media-buying review.

For the marketing behemoth, the move was a first; Unilever had never run a search, or appointed a lead agency, for a worldwide media-planning brief. In the past, the work has been divided by region. But in recent appearances Unilever's marketing leaders have said that the company is seeking to step up the creativity of its advertising with its new "Crafting Brands for Life" strategy.

Both Mr. Di Como and Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Keith Weed have talked in the past year of the increasing global scale of media and communications, driven largely by the growing importance of digital media and global players such as Facebook, Google and others within it.

Unilever's media buying, on the other hand, is still a regional task. When the planning review began in January, the company also began reviewing its buying operations in each region. According to people familiar with the matter, the regional reviews are slated to continue until about September. Mid-process, Unilever wrapped up the U.S. buying review and awarded the business to incumbent Mindshare.

Retaining the U.S. buying piece was no small feat for Mindshare. Ad Age 's 100 leading National Advertisers report ranked Unilever the 25th-biggest spender in 2011. Although down 5.9% from 2010, the marketer spent a hefty $1.29 billion on U.S. media in 2011.

But losing some of its global planning work will likely make a dent. According to Ad Age DataCenter's recent Global Marketers Report, the company spent $6.62 billion on worldwide media in 2010.

The PHD planning win accompanies a number of recent leadership changes at the firm. In March, Monica Karo, formerly president of integrated accounts for Omnicom Media Group and Apple account lead, replaced Andrew McLean as U.S. CEO. The firm also named Steve Williams, CEO of OMD Group UK, president of PHD New York. PHD's president and chief digital officer, Craig Atkinson, moved into the chief operating seat for PHD U.S. while retaining his CDO role.

MediaLink assisted with the review.

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Contributing: Jack Neff

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