A spokeswoman for the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer said longtime incumbents Omnicom Group's GSD&M, Austin, Texas, and independent Bernstein-Rein, Kansas City, Mo., have been notified of the review, which is in its early stages. She said she isn't sure whether a consultant will be involved yet or of the time frame for making an assignment or assignments. "All we've done so far is just notify the [incumbents]," she said.
The Wal-Mart account has been the subject of intense speculation in the agency world since Chief Marketing Officer John Fleming joined from Target Corp. and made it his mission to expand the giant retailer's marketing staff and shake up its playbook, at times borrowing from his former employer's approach.
In addition to cutting back on its low-price messaging, Mr. Fleming brought in former Chrysler Group marketing hotshot Julie Roehm, who was widely expected to push a roster shakeup. Recently, Wal-Mart dropped Smiley, its 11-year-old price-slashing icon, from its TV ads. The goal of the overall shift in messaging is to bring in more affluent shoppers who are interested in more than just deep discounts and are willing to buy higher-margin products.
A spokeswoman said the agency search would focus on ideas that work across media channels. "The aspect that's most important to us is we want to make sure that we're working with partners who can help us with fully integrated communications across all of the media we use," she said. "We want to make sure we are best equipped [to have] messaging that is consistent across all media."
She left open the possibilities that more than one agency could be hired and that the incumbents could successfully defend. "It might be one [agency]. It might be several. It might include one incumbent or both [in the assignment]."
GSD&M to defend
A GSD&M spokesman said the agency would defend the business and offered the following quote from the agency's co-founder and president, Roy Spence: "After 19 years of an extraordinary growth partnership between Wal-Mart and GSD&M, combined with a whole new team of best of class marketing people at Wal-Mart, plus the fact that Wal-Mart has not had a full agency review in over 30 years -- I would say it is about time. GSD&M is all in -- as Willie Nelson said in his song 'Me and Paul' ... 'We've come to play not just for the ride.'"
"It's an important piece of business for us," said Chief Operating Officer Steve Bernstein of Bernstein-Rein. "We worked for them for 32 years and we look forward to more good years with them." The agency has worked on the account since 1974.