U.S. Cellular Hires Ketchum

Omnicom PR Shop Wins Pitch After Shootout With Publicis-owned MSL Group

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U.S. Cellular is set to hire Omnicom's Ketchum as its public-relations agency following a competitive review that began early this year, according to industry executives.

Publicis Groupe 's MSL Group and Ketchum competed for the business in the final round. It's understood that Publicis Consultants, which is part of the MSL Group PR network, as well as a network of local agencies, had most recently supported the brand's PR efforts.

Ketchum declined to comment, and MSL Group referred calls to the company. U.S. Cellular would not confirm the selection, telling Ad Age that it "is wrapping up the selection process for a lead public-relations agency to join our team."

Chicago-based U.S. Cellular has been steadily decreasing its measured-media spending over the past few years. It's a move that could suggest a shift in resources to PR and earned media, which is typically a fraction of the cost of a media buy. From January through October of 2011, the company spent $74.5 million in the U.S., compared with $98.3 million in 2010 and $109.3 million in 2009, according to Kantar.

During the process the wireless carrier conducted a parallel creative agency review. It began early this year and concluded recently with the creative incumbent, Publicis Groupe 's Publicis & Hal Riney, replaced by Interpublic Group of Cos.' Mullen. Hal Riney had been handling the U.S. Cellular creative account since 2007, and Starcom has been working on the media business, which was not affected by the reviews.

U.S. Cellular has had management changes in the past 18 months. Seventh Generation and PepsiCo alum David Kimbell was named VP-marketing in early 2011. Mary Dillon joined as president-CEO in May 2010 after serving as global CMO at McDonald's.

For Ketchum, it's one more win to balance out some losses, including Kodak (which went bankrupt) and a portion of the Kellogg business, which went into review earlier this year and ultimately landed at Edelman.

Last October, Ketchum managed to get on Procter & Gamble's exclusive agency roster with the addition of the coveted Gillette account.

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