Publicis Groupe Agency Team Wins USAA Account

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USAA - Never Stop Being Their Protector
USAA - Never Stop Being Their Protector Credit: USAA

USAA has selected a Publicis Groupe team, including Razorfish, Saatchi & Saatchi and others within the network, to handle all integrated marketing, communications and media after a competitive holding company review.

Publicis Groupe landed the business after what USAA referred to as "several months of rigorous interviews, on-site visits and in-depth discussions with several companies." For the pitch, the holding company implemented its so-called "Power Of One" strategy by bringing together agencies and services from Publicis Communications, Publicis.Sapient and Publicis Media. In addition to Razorfish, the team includes Saatchi & Saatchi, MSLGroup, Mediavest|Spark and Prodigious. The team will be responsible for creative and content development, marketing, advertising and media buying, social media, corporate responsibility, PR and issues and crisis management.

USAA Chief Marketing Officer Roger Adams wouldn't identify the other holding companies in the hunt but said though they all had integrated models, Publicis stood out, with its "spot on" examples of integrated creative across all marketing communications and social functions. Each company leader involved in the selection process -- across all areas of PR, creative, marketing and social -- unanimously chose Publicis Groupe, he added.

Publicis Groupe also rose above competitors because of its focus on diversity, which includes a pledge to hire 30% of new staffers on the team from diverse communities and backgrounds.

While the diversity aspect was called out in the RFP, Mr. Adams said Publicis Group "went well beyond what they were asked for and demonstrated how they would deliver diversity by turning it into a program."

Shannon Denton, global CEO of Razorfish, who ran the pitch and headed up the team integration for it, said the program is part of Publicis and USAA's goal to transform the industry. He added that USAA members are diverse and noted that Publicis Groupe believes the work on the account will be better and more creative if the team is also diverse in terms of ethnicity, gender, race and ways of thinking.

The five key components of the diversity program are education, recruitment, onboarding, retention and recognition of talent, said Sandra Sims-Williams, chief diversity officer of Publicis Groupe. The holding company will also work closely with USAA on the program.

All work being done by USAA's previous agency partners will be fully transitioned to Publicis Groupe by the end of the first quarter of 2017, except for WME/IMG, which will continue working on sponsorship-related activities, such as the Army-Navy Game presented by USAA.

USAA began working with MullenLowe in March after it parted ways with former agency partner Campbell-Ewald because of a scandal related to a racist memo. MullenLowe and Campbell-Ewald are both part of Interpublic Group, and after the insurance and financial company dropped Campbell-Ewald, IPG said in a statement that it planned "to transition our USAA team into a standalone, purpose-built entity over the next few months."

Though IPG said it would create a standalone entity, USAA said it had not signed an agreement with IPG regarding the work terminated with Campbell Ewald and said it was working with IPG on a transition plan as it searches for a new shop. IPG's Initiative was the media agency on the account, Fleishman Hillard previously handled PR and Merkle worked on USAA's social business.

Mr. Adams said all of the former agencies "have done a great job in the past," but the company has to "reorganize for the future and put a premium on integration."

"We thank USAA for the opportunity over the past eight years to help their members experience the benefits of financial readiness," said IPG in a statement."IPG employees across this country have felt pride in sharing the stories of military members and their families with the rest of America and in seeing USAA grow their membership base by over 50% during this time."

Representatives from MullenLowe, Initiative, Merkle and FleishmanHillard were not immediately available for comment.

New creative from the Publicis Groupe team will likely come out in the first quarter of 2017, and Mr. Adams said USAA is looking to have "more impact through integration" and further strengthen its digital and mobile capabilities.

When asked about whether bringing on a French holding company for a U.S. military-focused business will cause any backlash, Mr. Adams said no because Publicis Groupe "truly is a global company." He added that it has a French heritage, but a large U.S. presence and many U.S. based agencies.

In July, Ad Age reported that Publicis Groupe and Walmart were creating new entity to house the retailer's U.S. creative and in-store advertising, along with other pieces of business that do not involve advertising. The relationship, "is the direct result of Publicis' new approach, 'the Power of One,' which is designed to deliver end-to end solutions for our clients," said Maurice Lévy, chairman and CEO of Publicis Groupe, in the statement at the time.

Nearly a year ago, Publicis Groupe announced the reorganization of its agency networks and reshuffling of its leadership in a move that created four new groups: Publicis Communications, Publicis Media, Publicis.Sapient and Publicis Healthcare.

USAA, headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, spent about $135 million on U.S. measured media in 2015, according to Kantar Media, down from $139.3 million in 2014. The financial services firm, which serves American military members, veterans and their families, has 11.7 million members and a net worth of $28.9 billion, according to a company statement.

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