MEC Wins Marriott Business in Global Consolidation Pitch

Finalists Were MEC and ZenithOptimedia

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Marriott has selected WPP's MEC as its new global AOR for media buying and planning, following a competitive review to consolidate global accounts.

The selection, effective November 1, includes a one-year contract with the option to renew.

Incumbents, including Aegis' Carat (U.S.), Publicis Groupe 's Starcom (Latin America), Publicis Groupe 's ZenithOptimedia (Asia Pacific) and MEC (EMEA), which earlier this summer began working with the brand on a project basis, were invited to participate in the review. At the end, it came down to MEC and ZenithOptimedia. Carat, which had the majority of the business, declined to comment.

The global budget will likely exceed the $86 million, which is what the company spent on U.S. measured media in 2010, according to Kantar. The number, the majority of which is expected to be spent on U.S. media, could grow depending on scope, which the teams are still working out, said Susan Thronson, senior-VP of global marketing. She added that at least one-third of the company's U.S. budget was spent on digital in 2010.

For MEC, it's the first win with new North America CEO Marla Kaplowitz in place. The agency pitched it under former North America CEO Lee Doyle, who stepped down last month. It's also likely to be a sigh of relief for an agency that has had a tough year with new and existing business. The firm is currently defending its Toys 'R' Us and Novartis accounts in ongoing pitches.

"Both ZenithOptimedia and MEC were just awesome throughout the whole process," said Ms. Thronson. "We've been with MEC only since early this summer on a project basis in EMEA. In contrast to the other three agencies, they knew us the least well. We were very impressed with them."

"This pitch involved an exhaustive analysis of our network capability, our operating principles and the depth and breadth of our most valuable assets - our people," said Charles Courtier, global CEO of MEC, in a statement. "I am proud of our teams right across the world and we can't wait to get to work with our new client partners."

It's understood that Carat, which declined to comment, had handled both traditional and digital media at one point during the eight-year relationship. Over time, Marriott allocated a chunk of its U.S. budget to digital and handed the digital media buying and planning work to Dentsu's McGarryBowen, which is its lead global creative agency. Carat won the $100 million-plus Disney business early this year, including Disney Theme Parks, which could have presented a conflict issue with Marriott.

McGarryBowen will continue to lead global creative, but "MEC will lead media planning and buying for all brands worldwide, and for all forms of media," including digtial, said Ms. Thronson. Team One's creative duties for Marriott luxury brands, as well as Marriott's search marketing agency Publicis Modem, are not affected by the review.

Ms. Thronson said that MEC embarked on three projects during the pitch process. The first, to showcase global scale, was a project for the Marriott Hotels & Resort brands. The second was a U.S. assignment to integrate the Courtyard brand's NFL sponsorship into its marketing. And the third was a global assignment for the Ritz Carlton brand, which has the smallest paid budget, she said.

Of the Ritz-Carlton brand, she added: "The brand's ability to leverage its own assets to generate earned [media] is so great, so we want to employ paid [media] to generate the maximum amount of earned."

Marriott International worked with Joanne Davis Consulting to assist throughout the search process.

This story was updated with additional information about the budget and a statement from MEC.

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