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It's All About Who You Know: How MPG Won the Sears Biz

CEO Charlie Rutman Worked with Key Execs Before

By Published on .

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Just 24 hours after splitting with 20-year partner MindShare, media executives from Sears attended a meeting last Thursday at the lower-Manhattan headquarters of MPG, the agency to which they had just awarded their $740 million account. On the agenda: the small matter of how to spend those millions in this year's upfront.
Charlie Rutman, MPG's CEO-North America, stabilized an agency that was reeling after big losses and has overseen wins of several mid-size accounts.
Charlie Rutman, MPG's CEO-North America, stabilized an agency that was reeling after big losses and has overseen wins of several mid-size accounts.

With the upfront already under way, the meeting promised to be a long and high-pressure session. But for the executives involved, it was also a new beginning and a chance to reconnect: Charlie Rutman, MPG's CEO-North America, and Chris Black, Sears' director-media planning, were colleagues decades ago at now-defunct Backer Spielvogel. And Perianne Grignon, Sears' VP-media planning and buying, worked closely with MPG Chief Operating Officer Steve Lanzano when she was at AT&T and he was at Mediaedge, which was the telecom giant's agency.

Those longtime relationships weren't the only reason Sears chose MPG over incumbents MindShare and Mediaedge, Aegis Group's Carat and independent Horizon Media. But they were one important factor in what is primarily "a relationship business," said one executive familiar with the matter. "Clients want to know you and trust that they'll get the attention they need."

It's a testament to Mr. Rutman's work since joining MPG from Carat in mid-2005 that Sears' executives liked what they saw from him and the pitch team, composed of executives from both MPG and sibling digital and interactive agency MediaContacts.

Mr. Rutman has stabilized an agency that was reeling after big losses (Intel, VW) and overseen wins of several mid-size accounts. The only loss he's suffered recently was the defection of Hershey's planning account to OMD. His decision last year to more closely align traditional buying and planning with MediaContacts got the attention of Sears executives, who cited the collaboration demonstrated in the pitch as a factor in their selection.

Sears' move from one of the industry's largest agencies, MindShare, and its parent, WPP, to a mid-size player offers credence to the increasingly popular notion that media volume is no longer as significant an advantage as it used to be. Today strategy and expertise in targeting select groups arguably has become more important.

During the pitch, Sears' asked contenders to illustrate their ability to reach multicultural audiences, according to executives familiar with the review. A case study by MPG's diversity unit for client AutoZone showed how "El Garaje de AutoZone," a radio program on Univision Network Radio, boosted sales among Hispanics.

The retailer also wanted insight into agencies' strategic heft and asked each for solutions on how to make Sears more aspirational, according to executives familiar with the review. MPG's suggestion: Think differently about media buys and how Sears' various brand names might attract audiences on their own.

"MPG's a good cultural fit for us," a Sears Holdings spokesman said. "We've got a good chemistry."
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