Sprint Corp. is readying a review on its $250 million media account, according to executives close to the teleco.
"They definitely want to get this done before the upfront," said one of the executives, adding he expects the review by early next year at the latest.
The Sprint business is a plum assignment, and continues the trend of blue-chip marketers reviewing and/or consolidating their media accounts, often at shops that don't handle their creative work.
STRAINED TIES WITH JWT
A Sprint spokesman said only that a media review "is not on our radar screen right now."
The bulk of the marketer's media spending is currently handled by J. Walter Thompson USA, New York. But the relationship between JWT and Sprint is strained. In September, the long-distance carrier yanked its creative account from JWT's San Francisco office, awarding it to McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York.
While JWT's media relationship with Sprint is believed to be on firm ground, a key executive who worked on the account at JWT, Shelly Watson, is now at McCann as VP-national broadcast.
Both roster and non-roster agencies are expected to be invited into the pitch. In addition to JWT and McCann, roster agencies include Grey Advertising's MediaCom, New York, and Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco.
WIRELESS MAY BE INCLUDED
It's unclear whether Sprint will include its digital wireless media business unit, Sprint PCS, in the review. Publicis & Hal Riney currently handles creative and media for that account.
To date, Sprint PCS has spent most of its ad dollars on spot TV, some $23 million in the first eight months of 1998, according to Competitive Media Reporting. But as it expands into more markets, it may be more efficient for the marketer to buy national TV time for the unit.
Executives familiar with the review plans said McCann was promised the media assignment when it won creative. But the Sprint executive who made that promise was not in a position to deliver, one executive said; instead, the marketer will likely opt for a wider review.
Grey's MediaCom unit handles business and print buying for Sprint. But its recent win of the AirTouch media account would seem to eliminate it from a Sprint review.
STARCOM A CONTENDER?
Leo Burnett Co.'s Starcom Media Services unit may also make a run at Sprint's media business. Burnett's urban marketing arm, Vigilante, New York, handles African-American advertising for Sprint. Starcom knows the category, having formerly handled media for Ameritech.
"This will be an interesting [review] to watch," one agency executive said.
"It's very political inside Sprint right now," the executive added, "and whoever gets the upper hand will have a lot to say about where the media goes."
Copyright November 1998, Crain Communications Inc.