The win extends a hot streak for McCann, which has added $440 million in billings from five new accounts since the first of this year. That is almost equal to the agency's wins for all of 1995, a record year.
AT&T Wireless was known as McCaw Cellular Communications prior to 1995, and has been handled by different agencies on a regional basis. Lead creative work came from the Richards Group, Dallas.
The San Francisco offices of Young & Rubicam and Foote, Cone & Belding, both AT&T core agencies, also participated in the final review.
The San Francisco office of McCann plans to launch AT&T Wireless' first campaign by the end of this spring. The two are still working out final details on the national assignment.
The shop expects to hire 50 or more people to handle the account, according to Ron Benza, exec VP-general manager of the office.
Through AT&T Wireless' existing cellular, messaging, aviation services and wireless data business-as well as new service areas obtained as a result of the recent Federal Communications Commission auctions for personal communication services licenses-the Kirkland, Wash.-based marketer will offer service to more than 80% of the U.S.
GLOBAL SERVICE IS KEY
The agency's rising fortunes underscore what McCann does best-global service-and what it is learning to do better, namely creative.
"McCann had everything we were looking for," said Neve Savage, VP-marketing at AT&T Wireless. "A strong regional system, excellent creative capabilities and sound strategic thinking."
Both AT&T Wireless and the still-unnamed equipment business, known as "Newco," are run by separate managers than those McCann generally works with as AT&T's core business-to-business agency.
McCann also won AT&T Solutions, a $15 million to $20 million assignment for a consulting unit, in December.
"We really wanted break through creative, along with skills in media buying and planning. McCann had all of that," said Dave Shaver, VP-advertising and marketing communications for Newco.
Executives from AT&T and McCann said the agency presented Newco with a compelling positioning idea, urging the client to distance itself from AT&T rather than attempt to leverage the communications giant's strength.
THE BEST YET
"Our work for Newco is our best effort so far," said Nina Di-Sesa, exec VP-executive creative director, who has been a favorite of AT&T management since she helped create its "We Want You Back" long-distance campaign.
"Our [recent] creative product is unexpectedly McCann," said Chairman-CEO John Dooner, acknowledging his agency's lackluster creative reputation. Since taking over as CEO in mid-1994-he became chairman a year ago-Mr. Dooner has made improving that reputation McCann's chief goal.
Ms. DiSesa doesn't kid herself about the agency's creative goals.
"It takes years to change a creative reputation," she said.
"McCann is a large agency that has global capabilities that certain kinds of clients are interested in," said Arthur Anderson, a partner at the consultancy Morgan Anderson, New York.
And it's that reputation for global strength that won McCann the $230 million consolidated global account of Reckitt & Colman (AA, Jan. 15), as well as a $65 million multiregional consolidation-$45 million new to McCann-of Ferrero, maker of Tic Tac mints and other candies.
Though Dentsu ranks above McCann in total worldwide billings, no network is as big in as many countries or regions as McCann, one of the three biggest agencies in 41 countries.
GOOD NEWS FROM COKE
Coca-Cola Co.'s decision two weeks ago to retain McCann for media buying and planning in its European markets was as significant as the Reckitt consolidation. Holding on to that $200 million account shows some stabilization in McCann's relationship with its best-known client.
One of Mr. Dooner's strategies for bolstering McCann's creative product and reputation is hooking up with hot creative shops. Since taking the helm, he has acquired Anderson & Lembke, New York and San Francisco, a business-to-business agency with consumer-side aspirations and a strong high-tech client list; and formed alliances with Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., and Hasan, a hot Finnish agency.
In addition, he launched Amster Yard, a New York creative boutique. Amster Yard and McCann jointly won the $20 million Outback Steakhouse account on Jan. 12.
Kim Cleland, Alice Z. Cuneo and Chuck Ross contributed to this story.