Incumbent Brierley Won't Defend Airlines' Mileage Plus Account

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- UAL Corp.'s United Airlines narrowed the review for its $50 million to $60 million Mileage Plus loyalty program to 12 agencies from 40, a United spokeswoman said.

Requests for proposals, due Sept. 20, specifically name United, as opposed to initial requests for information that mentioned only an undisclosed airline, according to executives with knowledge of the review.

Review moves in-house
Triad Consulting Corp., Troy, Mich., helped United initiate the review process and pare the list of contenders down to 12, but the remainder of the review will be handled in-house by United, said Joe Kelly, chief marketing officer of Triad.

Agencies participating include WPP Group siblings Wunderman, a unit of Young & Rubicam, and OgilvyOne, a unit of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide; Havas' Brann Worldwide; Interpublic Group of Cos.' DraftWorldwide and Foote Cone & Belding Worldwide; Publicis Groupe's Frankel & Co.; and Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide. Those agencies are all based in Chicago. The other contenders are Omincom siblings Rapp Collins Worldwide and Proximity, both Dallas; Interpublic's J. Walter Thompson, Detroit; and Publicis' Publicis Dialog, San Franciso, according to the executives.

None of the agencies would comment on the review.

Incumbent won't defend
The incumbent, Brierley & Partners, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles, which is 20% owned by WPP, declined to participate in the review, according to the agency.

Brierley said today it had resigned as United's direct marketing agency in December, following the carrier's launch of its UAL Loyalty Services subsidiary designed to manage the Mileage Plus frequent-flyer program. Brierley said it saw the loyalty arm as a direct competitor and agreed to serve as a "transitional agency of record" for United and the loyalty unit in anticipation of a review.

"Given the organizational and competitive issues inherent in serving as a sub-contractor to United's loyalty venture, coupled with the unusual timing of the review, we reluctantly elected to deploy our resources against other opportunities," Hal Brierley, chairman of Brierley, said in a statement.

Changes in industry
"United Airlines and UAL Loyalty Services has enjoyed a stable, lasting and fruitful relationship with our current direct marketing agency of record for over 12 years, but during that time many changes have taken place within United's competitive landscape, in the travel loyalty industry and in the direct marketing agency service industry," the United spokeswoman said. "It's in our best interest right now to undertake a review of best-in-class direct marketing agencies. The goal of this review is to identify the agency or agencies that can provide the best solutions for us."

Interpublic's MRM Partners Worldwide, New York, a unit of McCann-Erickson Worldwide, received the RFP but declined to participate due to its relationship with US Airways, said Tracey Owens, MRM's executive vice president and general manager.

A shortlist of three to four agencies will be notified by Nov. 1, with a final decision set for Dec. 23, the executives said.

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