Agencies consider contingencies

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Advertisers and agencies are cautiously making plans for advertising in wartime.

While very few advertisers or agencies are willing to go on the record to discuss their preparations should a U.S.-led war with Iraq begin, they agree it’s a topic of serious debate and utmost concern.

"It is absolutely being discussed with every client," said Barbara Joynes, partner of integrated services at the Martin Agency. The agency’s clients include United Parcel Service of America Inc., The Wall Street Journal and the National Oilheat Research Alliance.

Joynes said the Richmond, Va.-based agency started having conversations with clients late last fall. Subjects included everything from the content of messages to where ads were being run.

"Each client is different," said Joynes, who declined to discuss specific plans for individual clients. But she did say response marketers could face the most serious challenges in the first few days following the outbreak of war.

In an effort to help its members prepare, the Direct Marketing Association last month issued a white paper on how to prepare for potential war. Among the DMA’s suggested tactics: Shift mail dates to better adjust to the timing of traumatic events; reactivate old names from databases rather than prospect for new customers; and defer new hires, spending increases and capital expenditures until the market normalizes again.

Impact on budgets

In a survey of more than 1,000 media buyers conducted last month by InsightExpress L.L.C. and media publisher MediaPost, 55% of respondents agreed with the statement that a war with Iraq would negatively affect their 2003 media budgets. Only 19% disagreed with the statement, and 22% were neutral.

"The threat of war is the No. 1 factor affecting our clients’ outlook on their businesses and, by extension, our business," said Rob Whittle, president-CEO, The Williams Whittle Companies, Alexandria, Va., which is part of the ICOM global network of independent agencies.

Last month, ICOM conducted an internal survey among its 70 agency members. While the threat of war looms large for many global agencies and their clients, it is still overshadowed by economic turmoil, which was identified as the chief factor that could affect the advertising business, the survey found.

However, some marketers are making adjustments to their advertising now in the event a war does break out.

Ads cut, rescheduled

Mail and document management company Pitney Bowes Inc., which launched a new advertising campaign last month (see story, Page 4), said one of the new ads was scratched because of the possibility of war with Iraq. The ad copy read, "We have nothing to fear but details to come," which is a play on the famous FDR quote ("The only thing we have to fear is fear itself"), but it contains a mistake to illustrate how small mistakes can have a big impact on a company’s bottom line.

Pitney Bowes felt the ad wouldn’t be appropriate given the American public’s level of anxiety over the possibility of war and the ongoing terrorist threat, said Bruce Lee, executive creative director, North America, OgilvyOne.

Patrick Walhain, co-founder and executive director of Dassas, a Paris-based ad agency that is part of the ICOM network, said its client Norbert Dentressangle Group has rescheduled its TV advertising from March to September. Walhain said the client, which is in the transportation and logistics business in Europe, fears that an increase in oil prices could seriously affect its business.

Other b-to-b marketers have quietly made plans to change their ads if war breaks out.

John Kahan, VP-integrated marketing communications at IBM Corp., said, "Our contingency plans are in place." He added the computer giant would "make sure our marketing is reflecting what’s going on in the world."

Adjustments in advertising as a result of a war could have other implications as well. For example, there are concerns about the purchase of media time and make-goods for advertisers in the event TV networks go to full war coverage and ads get pulled or rescheduled.

"No one knows how extensive the pre-emption may be, and to what extent the media may push ads into slots that will get [advertisers] the GRPs [gross ratings points] they contracted for," said Doug Wood, partner at Hall Dickler Kent Goldstein & Wood, a New York law firm that represents global advertisers.

Wood said he hasn’t seen or been asked to draft any contracts between advertisers and agencies specifying terms for war coverage contingencies. "It surprises me there haven’t been contracts," he said.

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