AT&T Holds Massive Review for U.S. Creative and Media

Incumbents WPP, Omnicom Invited to Participate

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Whitacre tower, the AT&T headquarters, in Dallas, Texas.
Whitacre tower, the AT&T headquarters, in Dallas, Texas. Credit: AT&T Brand and Identity Works/Interbrand via UnderConsideration

AT&T, the nation's second largest advertiser, is holding a massive review for its U.S. creative and media accounts.

The company is seeking one holding company solution for the vast majority of its advertising. Omnicom and WPP are the only holding companies invited to the review, which is being overseen by MediaLink. Omnicom's BBDO handles creative for the AT&T brand, while WPP's MEC fields media and Grey handles creative for DirecTV.

A spokesman said the review encompasses the vast majority of creative, digital and media for AT&T and DirecTV in the U.S. and will include corporate brand work, as well as its business solutions and entertainment business. He added that the review is expected to finish at the end of the summer.

Not affected by the search will be its multicultural advertising, which is handled by multiple agencies, and Cricket, its smaller wireless brand, which is handled by Argonaut. The spokesman said that MEC does Cricket's media buying, and that while Cricket creative for now won't change, media buying still could.

BBDO and MEC have has been working with AT&T since 2007. Grey has been handling DirecTV since 2010. MEC's mobile carrier experience extends overseas, where it won the international Vodafone account in 2014. At the time, AT&T was rumored to be eyeing a Vodafone acquisition.

BBDO and MEC declined to comment. WPP and Omnicom didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Grey executives couldn't immediately be reached.

"We're looking to improve efficiencies, quality and consistency across the portfolio," said the AT&T spokesman. "We will examine the costs in the past to determine fair and reasonable pricing for creative and media buying." He added that the company may decide to bring some ad services in-house in the future, but said that what that could mean is still up in the air.

The fate of some other agencies, such as independent shops, was unclear, as the company has a lengthy roster. A couple Publicis agencies, such as Razorfish and Sapient are also on the roster and their fate is similarly unknown.

After AT&T acquired DirecTV in July 2015, the company had been holding a series of jump balls for project work, which often resulted in BBDO and Grey pitching against one another to create campaigns for projects that included both the AT&T and DirecTV brands.

AT&T is second only to Procter & Gamble in terms of ad spending in the U.S., according to Ad Age's DataCenter. In 2014, it spent a total of $3.27 billion on both measured and unmeasured media, according to data analyzed by Ad Age's DataCenter.

Contributing: Alexandra Bruell

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