IPG is not in the Ford review, but Omnicom likely is

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Credit: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Ad agency holding companies going after Ford's massive global creative business will have the navigate a thicket of potential auto account conflicts—and at least one company is not involved for that reason. Interpublic CEO Michael Roth confirmed to Ad Age that IPG, whose McCann network handles Chevrolet, is not involved in the review, which formally kicked off last month and is expected to conclude in the fall.

"We are a General Motors holding company," he said in an interview. "There are a few conflicts in this business now. It used to be there were a lot. Well, General Motors-Ford is about as big a conflict as you can get, so we are not participating." Asked if IPG was invited to pitch Ford, he said: "I won't answer that." A person with knowledge of the process said IPG was not formally invited because of the GM conflict.

Publicis Groupe also has significant portions of GM's business in the U.S., which could complicate things. The agency holding company's favored approach of late is to build so-called bespoke units meshing agency talent for big clients under its "Publicis One" model. But its Ford options might be limited due to its existing auto clients.

Its Rokkan agency handles GM's Cadillac, while a special Publicis entity called EngageM-1 has GMC and Buick. Globally, Publicis also has a major portion of the Mercedes-Benz account spanning some 40 countries outside of the U.S. Also, Saatchi & Saatchi handles Toyota in the U.S. Two high-ranking Publicis Groupe executives declined to comment about the Ford review this week when asked by Ad Age.

One likely Ford contenter is Omnicom Group, whose BBDO remains conflict-free in the auto category in the U.S. Omnicom's DDB is in a good position to go after the Volkswagen account—which is also in review globally— because DDB handles VW in overseas markets. So that likely makes BBDO the lead horse on Ford by default. (Omnicom also has Nissan in the U.S., with its Zimmerman agency taking a key role.)

An Omnicom spokeswoman declined comment. Ford in a statement declined to go into details about the review, only naming incumbent WPP as one of the participants.

"Ford is committed to driving greater marketing efficiency, effectiveness and customer insight, leveraging the latest tools and technology," Ford said in a statement to Ad Age this week. "As part of this effort, Ford is re-evaluating its global marketing and advertising strategy and has invited WPP and other agencies to compete for portions of its advertising business."

Flock Associates is the consultant on the review, according to multiple people familiar with the matter. Flock declined comment.

WPP handles Ford via Global Team Blue, or GTB, which confirmed the review in late April. GTB handles creative and media for Ford. The competitive review does not include media, instead focusing on creative, brand strategy, creative and design. One priority for Ford is to drive greater creative consistency globally, according to a person familiar with the matter. While the tagline "Go Further" is used across the globe, along with the brand's familiar blue oval, other creative tactics have been more localized. Finding more cohesion across markets could result in more cost-effective advertising.

While the size of the Ford account makes holding companies the most likely contenders, independent agency Wieden & Kennedy could be a wild card. Several people familiar with the review mentioned the agency as possibly getting a look by Ford. A Wieden & Kennedy spokeswoman declined comment.

Ford spent $4.1 billion globally on advertising in 2017, according to its 10-K regulatory filing. In the U.S., the marketer shelled out $2.3 billion in 2016, ranking it as the nation's ninth-largest advertiser, according to the Ad Age Datacenter.

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