A formal decision to award the account to TBWA could come by the middle of the week. If that happens, it would deal a damaging blow to Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, United's agency for 31 years.
None of the other contenders in the three-month review have been invited back to United's suburban Chicago headquarters. In addition to TBWA and Burnett, Young & Rubicam, New York and Chicago, and Fallon McElligott/Fallon Mc-Elligott Berlin, Minneapolis and New York, were finalists.
United has asked TBWA-which does not have a Chicago office-to explain its plans to staff the account, in particular how involved senior managers will be, said one executive close to the review.
Executives at TBWA and the other agencies declined comment. United could not be reached.
A United victory would be a stunning reversal of fortune for TBWA, which was eliminated
TBWA nears United win from the competition after a round of presentations in the first week of October. According to executives familiar with the review, TBWA Chairman-CEO Bill Tragos talked his way back into the review within 24 hours.
Mr. Tragos has strongly denied his agency had to work its way back in the door, but executives at other agencies said they had been told by United at one point that three agencies-not four-had been selected for the final round.
United surprised the ad industry when it launched the review this summer, since most critics consider Burnett's work for the airline well above average for the category, and the relationship between the two companies had been one of advertising's strongest.
Burnett has been struggling this year on several other high-profile accounts, including Reebok International, McDonald's Corp. and Oldsmobile. But United is different because its business is healthy and growing.
DELAY AFTER FINALS
The final round took place Oct. 8, when the four finalists made 70-minute presentations to a group of United executives including Chairman-CEO Gerald Greenwald. The decision was expected to be announced immediately after those meetings but was then delayed.
In addition to Mr. Tragos, TBWA executives involved in the pitch include Bob Kuperman, president/CEO-West; Lee Clow, chairman/chief creative officer-North America; and Rob Rosenthal, executive director-Latin America.
There is still a chance the decision could change, several agency executives said. Noting that Burnett has plenty of loyal supporters within United, they said the agency is likely to battle to keep its hold on all or part of the account right up until United makes a public announcement. Contributing: Mark Gleason, Chuck Ross