Wal-Mart's Many Reviews Stay on Parallel Path

General Market, Multicultural Accounts Make up Retailer's $578 Million Business

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SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- Wal-Mart Stores' search for an agency to handle its $578 million account is more like several reviews in one. Not only isn't the retailer requiring its general-market account to go with one holding company, it's conducting three separate reviews for its African-American/urban, Asian and Hispanic accounts.
according to the retailer's search consultant, 'There is potential for unbundling,' creating a so-called dream team of shops.
according to the retailer's search consultant, 'There is potential for unbundling,' creating a so-called dream team of shops.

The consultant handling the review, Catherine Bension, CEO, Select Resources International, Santa Monica, Calif., said the multicultural reviews will be on a parallel path with the one for general-market creative and media. Wal-Mart's multicultural incumbents have been invited to pitch, including E. Morris Communications, Chicago, which handles African-American advertising; IW Group, formerly Imada Wong, which handles Asian advertising; and Lopez Negrete, which handles the Hispanic account.

In the hunt
Wal-Mart's current general-market agencies also are in the hunt to keep that business: Omnicom Group's GSD&M, Austin, Texas, and independent Bernstein-Rein, Kansas City, Mo. Ms. Bension said media planning, media buying and interactive all will be handled as part of the general-advertising review.

The initial request for proposals for general market work went out last week, and more than a dozen agencies are being considered initially. A group of finalists will be named and then narrowed once again following agency visits. A handful of finalists will present on an assignment, with a decision made afterward. Each of the four reviews is expected to conclude this fall, she said. She would not comment on contenders.

The multicultural reviews are expected to begin within the month.

"We are not looking for a holding-company solution," Ms. Bension said. "There is potential for unbundling," creating a so-called dream team of shops, or other options, she added.

Different scope of work
Ms. Bension cautioned that Wal-Mart's new marketing team is not looking at the incumbents as "defending" their business because the scope of the work is much different from what was done in the past. "It's a new team, a new day, and they are starting from ground zero," she said. Previous assignments handled by the two previous agencies "aren't going to exist," Ms. Benison said. "The structure of the relationship is going to be very different," though she declined to give specifics.

Because Wal-Mart's offerings are so expansive, agencies participating in the review will need to get clearance from current clients with potential conflicts, Ms. Bension said. For its part, Wal-Mart is likely to consider only retailers such as Target and Kmart as competition, she said.
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