Initiative gains edge with Unilever

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Unilever's $515 million U.S. media review, put on hold in December, is expected to crank up again following the TV upfront season.

The acquisition of the Botway Group, Unilever's U.S. media agency, by Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative Media, is believed to give Initiative the edge over Omnicom's Optimum Media Direction and WPP Group's MindShare, according to industry observers.

When requests for proposals went out for the U.S. review last October, the confidential document identified the candidates as Botway Group, Interpublic, WPP and Omnicom agencies. Holding companies had the option of presenting either as one company or through their individual agencies.


The holding companies chose to compete with their unbundled media entities. The RFP then made an unusual request: It asked the agencies first to suggest what the focus of the review should be, particularly whether Unilever should consolidate its accounts or keep them separate.

That request led the participating media agencies to redefine their own organizational structures before they could answer.

"We were all in a state of chaos," said one executive involved in the review. "Some more than others."

Optimum Media was launched in the U.S. earlier this year with Steve Grubbs as its CEO. The agency does not have a true headquarters, and plans to keep the media buying and planning departments of Omnicom agencies within their respective offices, according to Mr. Grubbs. The agency will have a central office for its upper management team, but all accounts will be run through the clients' respective agencies.


The formation of MindShare in the U.S. was announced in October with the naming of Irwin Gotlieb as MindShare's worldwide chairman-CEO (see related story below). Unlike Optimum Media, however, MindShare personnel and their various departments will exist under one roof, separate from the agencies from which they came.

Initiative and new acquisition, Botway, will also move into the same offices, with the Botway name disappearing altogether. However, founder Cliff Botway is staying on, with the new title exec VP-worldwide client relations.

Botway had many suitors over the last year, Mr. Botway said, but he decided to accept Initiative Media's offer for two reasons. One was to give his clients exposure to large, in-house planning capability. His agency specialized in purchasing national broadcast and print, but had no planning department. Another motivation was global reach.

"We were concerned that ultimately, unless we had [global reach], Unilever might move to Initiative, which had that facility," he said.

Is Unilever happy with his move? "I certainly think so," Mr. Botway said. "I think their attitude is `Let's wait and see what works out.' "

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