Kao USA to Agencies: We Want Your 'A-Team' on Our Account

Personal-Care Giant Stresses Its Needs in RFI

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Kao USA -- the Cincinnati-based subsidiary of Japanese personal-care manufacturer Kao Corporation -- is looking for a new U.S. media and full-service digital agency, Ad Age has learned.

The marketer sent out a request-for-information document to various agencies that could be potentially invited to participate in the review. The RFI was distributed by Joanne Davis Consulting, the search consultant overseeing the pitch. The consultancy declined to comment, while Kao representatives did not return requests for comment by press time. But it appears Kao is eager to streamline its agency relationships.

"Kao wants to consolidate traditional media and digital media/marketing with a single agency lead," the RFI says.

The new agency "will be responsible for many of Kao USA's consumer marketing communications" but will not handle public relations (currently being conducted by Tractenberg), TV and print creative (being done by KBS&P) or in-store and consumer promotions.

However, Kao does say it would like to see agencies' ideas regarding "the development of traditional creative (i.e. TV, Print) for future possibilities."

Kao most recently has worked with Initiative for media planning and Enlighten for digital marketing and creative.

Whichever agency eventually emerges as the winner in the pitch will have to feel confident about its ability to help challenger brands. Kao describes itself as a "midsize company" in the RFI and says that its "lean scrappy" brands are typically outspent 10:1 in its highly competitive brand categories. The RFI says that the company's annual gross media budget is between $80 million and $95 million with 70% of that money spent on John Frieda hair-care products and Jergens hand and body lotions.

The questionnaire attached to the RFI is due Jan. 24 and finalists will be notified the week of Feb. 4. Final presentations will commence a month later on March 4 at Kao USA's Cincinnati office.

Another tip for shops that are pitching? Be willing to put your best people on the business. The company rather bluntly stated that it wants to be treated like a first-rate player by its new digital agency.

"Kao wants to be an important priority for your agency and does not want to get lost or relegated to the 'B' team," according to the RFI.

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