BofA calls supershop shootout

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Bank of America has called the holding companies of its advertising agencies into a two-way pitch to decide which will service the bulk of its account, worth over $165 million.

The bank has asked Omnicom Group and Interpublic Group of Cos. to pitch as holding companies for its consumer-banking and affluent-markets account, now handled by Interpublic's Bozell Worldwide, New York. Bank of America would not disclose its spending, but according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR, it spent $167 million in U.S media last year.

The bank wants to try a "holding-company approach" in order to have more consistency in its messages, said Cathy Bessant, who became corporate marketing executive last November. The bank recently hired the Omnicom's Arnell Group to develop an "identity architecture" across all divisions.

"We were missing a huge opportunity to apply a consistent message," she said. She described the two-company review as "a closed-end loop of conversations" covering creative, capabilities and business processes. She said she expects the review, being handled in-house, to wrap up in October or early November.

Bozell is currently working on a fourth-quarter campaign, but the review will likely result in changes in the bank's creative.

"I wouldn't undertake it if I didn't want something different," Ms. Bessant said.

Under her watch, Bank of America has shuffled its roster this year, hiring three Omnicom shops for creative assignments and moving its media account from Omnicom's PHD. Last December, it hired Doremus Advertising to handle a business-to-business assignment worth $10 million to $15 million. In July, it tapped Arnell for branding and BBDO Worldwide for the launch of an investment service next year. Both were given their assignments without a review. The bank also ran an unconventional media review, which wrapped up last month after Bcom3 Group's Starcom Worldwide outbid other shops in an online auction (Ad Age, Aug. 19).

The media assignment and the Arnell, Doremus and BBDO accounts are not expected to be affected by the review. Ms. Bessant said the bank doesn't need to have all its advertising assignments within one holding company. The review also is not expected to affect Bank of America's multicultural agencies-WPP Group Asian shop Kang & Lee Advertising, Hispanic independent agency Lopez Negrete Communications and WPP's UniWorld Group, the bank's African-American agency-although Ms. Bessant said all agency assignments are reviewed regularly.

Omnicom and Interpublic officials referred calls to the client, but executives close to the review said BBDO is expected to lead the Omnicom pitch, while Bozell will be key in the Interpublic team.

contributing: rich thomaselli and lisa sanders

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