How McCann Kept the U.S. Army Account

Understanding Client's Mission, Global Reach and Value Helped Agency Hold on to $200 Million-a-Year Business

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Last Thursday night, McCann executives gathered at the Hyatt hotel in midtown Manhattan to toast the news they'd gotten just hours before. After a stressful seven-month pitch, the Interpublic Group of Cos.' agency was able to hold onto the $200 million-per-year U.S. Army account it took on in December 2005.

The decision -- which came nearly one year to the day that Nick Brien took over as CEO of McCann Worldgroup -- accomplished one of the biggest priorities for the agency, which is focused on emerging from a period of instability in recent years by making changes to talent, training employees and stemming client losses.

So what does the U.S. Army view as the most-important attributes in an ad partner? Three things: understanding the mission of the main brand of the nation's armed forces, global reach and value.

"McCann Worldgroup had the best proposal that delivered the best value to the department of the Army," Joanne Edwards, contracting officer with the Mission and Installation Contracting Command Center at Fort Knox, Ky., told Ad Age, less than 24 hours after the conclusion of the pitch process. Asked what the government branch was searching for, she said: "The ability to understand the Army and the ability to express [it] in an effective and meaningful way. And we looked for an agency that had the ability to execute those abilities across the nation and the world at a reasonable price." Ms. Edwards declined to elaborate on the fee that McCann will receive for the business, and McCann executives declined to comment on the matter.

In the final round of the pitch, it was a standoff between agencies from two holding companies, WPP and Interpublic Group of Cos. Though incumbent shops rarely manage to keep business after a review process -- some estimate the rate is as low as 10% -- many executives during the course of this pitch speculated that McCann would beat the other contenders: Interpublic sibling DraftFCB, and WPP's Grey and Y&R.

A trio of execs led the pitch on McCann's behalf: Momentum CEO Chris Weil, and the team leaders for the account across all Worldgroup companies, Lisa Nocella and Charlie Metzger. A three-prong process was launched last August, with a written proposal, then in-person presentations made in Charlotte, N.C., before Thanksgiving, and finally a negotiation stage held earlier this year.

According to several executives at shops that pitched the business, one sticking point for the Army was that no matter which shop took home the business, it would have to execute the "Army Strong" platform McCann rolled out in November 2006 nationally.

The Army was said to have been pleased with some innovative marketing ideas from McCann as well, such as the first integration into a gaming platform with "Halo 3," and the first tweet from space, which came from Army astronauts.

But most importantly, the fact that recruitment numbers were met during McCann's tenure on the account was a key factor in the Army's decision. In that regard, it got a little help from the recession; while downturns are a tough time for many marketers, for the Army they can actually help. In the thick of the recession in 2008, for example, the Army overshot its recruiting goal of 80,000 soldiers by 517 for the fiscal year, and it had some help from Congress in terms of increases in bonuses and ad spending.

Of course now, the challenge will be for McCann to meet those same goals at a time when employment is on the upswing and tensions are rising in parts of the world such as Libya. But according to the Army's Ms. Edwards, unless the Army drastically scales back its marketing efforts or makes a big strategy shift in how it plans to connect with new recruits, it's likely that the Interpublic agency has the account locked up for the next five years.

Then the process will start all over again.

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