Unilever Opens Review for Global TV Production Cos.

Learning From Controversy at Competitors, Roster Will Create Smaller Core Group but Allow New Businesses to Be Added

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Unilever has launched a review to create a global roster of TV commercial production companies, hoping to narrow its current pool of hundreds while maintaining flexibility to bring on new companies as well.

"Currently we work with hundreds and hundreds of production companies," said Jorgen Bartsch, VP-marketing services for the world's second-biggest advertiser. "That's far too much. We need to bring them down to a manageable number."

Jorgen Bartsch
Jorgen Bartsch

The goal "is first and foremost about quality and consistency globally," he said. "From that no doubt we would hope to get efficiencies, but that's not the primary result."

Unilever wants to avoid issues that caused some controversy when others in the industry, including top global ad spender Procter & Gamble Co. and Reckitt Benckiser, consolidated TV production shops in 2009. P&G spent $8.7 billion on measured media worldwide in 2009, followed by Unilever with $6 billion in global spending.

"Some of our peer group," Mr. Bartsch said, created a "closed roster" for TV production, which he said has engendered some resistance from agencies and production companies. "There are dangers in that," he said, "and we've certainly taken that into our sense of direction."

A P&G spokeswoman said in an email, "Overall, we are very pleased with our current [TV production] roster," which she said was selected "based on a range of factors, including quality, capability, value and the unique needs of our brands."

Right now, agencies can select the production company they want to work with, subject to Unilever's approval. After the roster is in place, which Mr. Bartsch said he expects to happen by the end of April, agencies will have to include at least two of the roster companies in their quotes for a shoot. But they'll also be allowed to bring in non-roster production companies for consideration.

"It leaves the opportunity that there are always new production companies that can be part of those best quotes," Mr. Bartsch said. "We'd like to stay fresh and in touch with what's developing in the world, so it's not a closed roster."

Unilever will review the roster at least twice a year and possibly quarterly, he said.

"The agency will still be responsible for the advertising and the output," he said. "They will brief the production companies for treatments, come back with those and then present the quotes to the Unilever brand team, who then together with the agency and the internal production team make the decision on which is the production company we would use."

Agencies have received the idea well so far, he said, in part because Unilever involved them from the start.

The roster covers only TV commercial production at this point, and not video production for online, branded content or other uses. It would not, for example, affect a project like the series of short films for the Magnum ice cream brand's U.S. launch. The films, directed by Karl Lagerfeld, will debut in April at the Tribeca Film Festival.

"As far as content, that's very much between the creative agency and the brand team to resolve what content they use," said Mr. Bartsch, an 18-year Unilever veteran who joined the company in South Africa and has also worked in Singapore and London in a variety of marketing and marketing services roles. He was involved in improving the company's product-innovation processes before taking on his current marketing-services role under Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Keith Weed last year.

In a parallel effort, Mr. Weed said last month that Unilever wants to reduce the number of digital agencies it works with globally.

"We want to remodel the way we are managing advertising and artwork production just to build greater internal capability and stronger relationships with external partners," Mr. Bartsch said. "The big item we want to make sure we have buttoned down is TV production, and then naturally we should evolve that and look at how it moves through to other areas."

Unilever isn't the only company to join P&G and RB in looking to consolidate global TV and/or video production. Kimberly-Clark Corp. also began looking into the area last year. "This is still an area we are aggressively exploring with our agency partners," a K-C spokesman said in an email.

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