A Wal-Mart spokeswoman confirmed the review is under way and narrowed to a shortlist, though she declined further details. Resource Interactive, Columbus, Ohio, has done digital work in the past for Wal-Mart, but it's not clear whether the shop was employed as agency of record or on a project basis. The current pitch is for creative and is not believed to include online media buying.
According to people familiar with the review, the shortlist of five agencies includes independent Resource; Publicis Groupe's Digitas; Interpublic Group of Cos.' MRM and R/GA; and Microsoft's Razorfish.
While others familiar with the process also said Digitas was participating, a person close to the agency denied that it was involved. Representatives of the agencies declined to comment or did not immediately return calls for comment.
With Publicis and Interpublic shops on the list, the assignment could extend the reach of one of those holding companies within Wal-Mart. Publicis' MediaVest, New York, handles media for Wal-Mart while Interpublic's Martin Agency, Richmond, Va., has creative duties. Publicis' SMG Search, a unit of Starcom MediaVest Group, also handles search marketing for Wal-Mart, but it's unclear whether some sort of search creative or landing-page optimization duties are part of the current digital review.
The review comes as Wal-Mart has stepped up its presence in social media significantly in the past year, even as the retailer's spending on internet-display advertising appears to have waned.
Wal-Mart spent $18 million on internet-display advertising through the first nine months of 2008, according to TNS Media Intelligence, and $44 million in 2007. That appears to represent a continued downturn from Wal-Mart's $61 million outlay in 2006.
Though a disproportionate amount of the retailer's spending in all media generally comes in the calendar fourth quarter, internet-display spending as a share of all measured media fell to 3.3% through the first nine months of 2008, compared to 8% in 2007 and 11.4% in 2006.
Overall, however, Wal-Mart has significantly stepped up spending with its $553 million measured-media outlay through the first nine months of 2008, already $2 million ahead of its spending for all of last year.
Wal-Mart has substantially raised its profile in social media since John Andrews, a former marketer for Implus Footcare, Newell Rubbermaid and Eastman Kodak, joined the company as senior marketing manager-emerging media last year. Earlier this year, Wal-Mart launched its Eleven Moms network of mommy bloggers (now numbering 19) and linked it to a new YouTube channel that amassed more than 16 million views and ranked No. 16 in viewership on the site last month.
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Contributing: Rupal Parekh