All three agencies pitched the business last week with presentations that offered to create new shops dedicated to Sony, primarily to erect firewalls between conflicting accounts.
"It's a good model for the future," said one of the participants, who requested anonymity. "When the dust settles, it's really the best way to handle these mega-assignments."
The U.S. portion is part of a larger global consolidation said to be worth an estimated $1 billion in billings. A decision on the U.S. portion is expected this month.
Creating stand-alone agencies dedicated to specific companies is a common practice in the automotive industry. In November 2000, Omnicom created Pentamark Worldwide to accommodate the $2.4 billion DaimlerChrysler account. WPP Group has had Ford Motor Media since 1997. And Starcom MediaVest last year created General Motors Planworks to handle its win of General Motors Corp. planning business. Interpublic previously established General Motors Mediaworks for media buying.
Such a structure is one way to attempt to resolve the issue of account conflicts. Omnicom, in its bid to win over PepsiCo and its newly acquired Quaker Oats Co. business, agreed to create a separate agency affiliated with DDB Worldwide.
In Universal McCann's situation, a dedicated agency would keep its Microsoft Xbox account away from Sony's PlayStation. Omnicom's PhD also has issues; the agency's immediate sibling, OMD, handles media buying for Universal Pictures and MGM Films.
Starcom MediaVest last week was juggling two reviews, both of which involved media buying for a movie division, Sony and the $500 million Walt Disney Co. account. Had it won both, it would have been necessary for Starcom MediaVest to keep the two accounts at separate agencies.
Unlike meetings held in July, in which the then-five finalists found themselves face to face with Sony's global executives, the encounters last week were with U.S. executives from Sony Computer Entertainment America, Sony Electronics, Sony Music and Sony Pictures Entertainment.
According to participants, the discussions centered on how to organize the Sony media business at the agencies.
Perhaps the most unusual participant at the table was Omnicom's Arnell Group. A small branding and design shop recently acquired by the holding company, Arnell has worked closely with PhD to bring alternative media strategies to the pitch, said an executive close to the review. The agency is no stranger to Sony. Arnell worked with Sony Pictures on "Men in Black," doing a product-placement deal for his client Ray Ban, and on "Stuart Little," again working a product placement deal for client Parmalat.
Contributing: Wayne Friedman