Unilever is set to put its $30 million Canadian media account into review in a prelude to a much larger review of its nearly $700 million U.S. media account.
The U.S. review is expected before the end of the year, according to two executives familiar with the package-goods giant's plans. But Western Initiative Media Worldwide, Unilever's lead global media agency, is scrambling to pre-empt a U.S. review. The Interpublic Group of Cos. shop is considering a bid to acquire the Botway Group, New York, which currently buys most media for Unilever in the U.S.
GOAL: TO BLOCK JWT, O&M
Buying Botway would be an attempt by Western to block two Unilever roster agencies, WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson Co. and Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, from a shot at the U.S. media business.
One executive with knowledge of Western Initiative's plans said it will only acquire Botway if it's sure the move will kill a U.S. review. "They aren't going to buy a one-trick pony if they have to end up killing the horse," the executive said.
Unilever is Botway's largest client. The independent media shop also buys for Bayer Corp. and Abbott Laboratories, among others.
Unilever declined comment. Michael Kassan, U.S. president of Western Initiative, was traveling and could not be reached by press time.
Clifford Botway, chairman of the Botway Group, said he was approached by Michael Lotito when the executive was with Interpublic's Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York. Mr. Lotito is expected to join Western as Mr. Kassan's No. 2 executive.
"I did have a conversation with Mike Lotito before he left Ammirati about their interest in perhaps purchasing us, but [I've had] no conversations with Interpublic or Western since then," Mr. Botway said.
The 68-year-old Mr. Botway said he is not looking to sell his company and retire, but added, "I am not opposed to merging with some company that would give my clients access to a global media network."
Western Initiative is in a battle around the globe with WPP's MindShare--a branded media venture outside the U.S. between JWT and O&M--for Unilever business. Unilever is the world's second-largest advertiser, after rival Procter & Gamble Co. Steve Cleak, a top MindShare executive on the Unilever business, recently defected to Western Initiative, London. Western Initiative is Unilever's primary media shop in Europe; Mindshare handles Australia, India, Taiwan and parts of Eastern Europe.
One goal of the Canadian review is to unite media planning and media buying. Unilever's current buyer in Canada is Harrison, Young, Personen & Newell, Toronto, while planning is handled by various brand agencies.
Western and the JWT/O&M alliance are expected to pitch the Canadian account. Harrison Young declined comment on the review, as did Alan Rutherford, Unilever's head of worldwide media.
But Mr. Rutherford, who joined Unilever a year ago, has said he plans to shake up the marketer's media strategy.
"Unilever needs to change both its structure and approach to communicating," Mr. Rutherford told Advertising Age International earlier this year.
Copyright May 1999, Crain Communications Inc.