MindShare snares $575 mil in Unilever media work

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Unilever awarded WPP Group's MindShare, New York, its estimated $575 million U.S. consolidated media planning and broadcast buying, following a yearlong review. Media duties for recent Unilever acquisition Bestfoods are included in the assignment.

All Unilever's creative agency assignments remain unaffected. Media planning and buying for SlimFast and Ben & Jerry's weren't included in the review. Prior to consolidation, Unilever's U.S. media planning assignment was split among nine agencies. MindShare currently handles the majority of Unilever's brand planning assignments. Agency of record responsibility for national and local TV buying had been handled by the Botway Group, which was purchased by Initiative Media last year.

The original search, which began in November 1999, pitted global powerhouse media agencies MindShare, Omnicom Group's Optimum Media Direction and Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative Media. Unilever postponed the review late last year in order to give the media agencies a chance to establish themselves. MindShare and OMD had just opened for business in the U.S. a month before the review, and Initiative had just purchased Botway and was working on integrating the agency. Shortly after the review was restarted this year, OMD dropped out, leaving MindShare and Initiative to shoot it out. It was believed by many insiders that Initiative had the edge in the competition after it purchased Botway, which had had the Unilever business for almost 10 years.

Part of MindShare's task with the new account will be to manage Unilever's new Communication Channel Planning process, which will identify the most effective combination of marketing vehicles for its leading brands. Unilever plans on spreading its ad spending across an array of media, rather than just concentrating it on broadcast.

It is expected that transition of business will be completed by March 1.

"Our goal was to make our significant investment in brand communications work harder," said Brad Simmons, VP of Unilever U.S. Media. "Consolidation will provide a seamless linkage as we move from broad marketing communications mix planning, through strategic media planning to tactical implementation."

Charles Strauss, president-CEO of Unilever U.S., said: "Our move to a consolidated media assignment reinforces Unilever's worldwide efforts to simplify and focus its marketing investment for maximum return. This consolidated approach will improve productivity for our leading brands, including our most recent acquisition, Bestfoods."

Copyright November 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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