Strategies: Sony gets it together

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Sony Corp. of America is pinning the future of its brand on a world where movies, music and other entertainment products are delivered to homes through high-speed Internet pipes. That vision, which demands that each of the companies in its empire work together, may inch closer to reality under a new consolidated media buying and planning accord reached last week.

Sony ended a year-long process when it parked $600 million in media buying and planning for Sony Electronics, Sony Music Entertainment and Sony Pictures Entertainment in North America, plus Sony Canada, at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Universal McCann, New York. Universal McCann has had Sony Pictures' media business for 15 years.

The consolidation will help Sony compete against formidable digital rivals that include Microsoft Corp. and AOL Time Warner. Sony hopes its divisions will jointly develop and promote content, products and services.

"This is a company that's in competition with different forces," said Howard Stringer, chairman-CEO of Sony Corp. of America. With the shift from analog to digital, the business landscape has become more complicated. "Sony is no longer quite the same anymore, and while the broadband world isn't here yet, we'd like to be, for once, ahead of the game rather than playing catch-up. ... We want to find out how we define the brand in the face of these changes more imaginatively and efficiently."

Sony companies have been fiercely autonomous and entrepreneurial, resulting in fragmented and fractured communications.

"In the past," Mr. Stringer said, "we attempted corporate branding and we didn't do very well with that."

Sony executives in New York and Tokyo now will meet to discuss specifics that will result from the consolidation. "This is of such interest to [Sony Corp. Chairman-CEO Nobuyuki] Idei. ... How we send the message that Sony is more than the sum of its parts is one issue" that can be addressed with advertising and sponsorships, Mr. Stringer said.

Media buying and planning for Sony Computer Entertainment, marketer of the No. 1 PlayStation video-game console, will remain with Omnicom Group. Omnicom's OMD, New York, handles broadcast media buying; sibling TBWA/Chiat/Day, San Francisco, handles media planning, interactive and print buying.

Universal McCann handles buying and planning for Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox, launched in November as a rival to PlayStation.

"For [Sony Computer Entertainment] at this particular time, it was pretty hard to make it work," Mr. Stringer said, adding he didn't expect that division to join its sibling companies for at least a year, if at all.

Universal McCann prevailed over Bcom3 Group's Starcom MediaVest Group, Chicago, and Omnicom's PhD, New York, in the review.

Sony Electronics' media was formerly at WPP Group's Media Edge, New York. Sony Music Entertainment media formerly was at WPP's Wunderman, New York.

In its review, Sony examined the strategic capabilities of agencies and didn't obsess about the bottom line. "They were looking for better cost efficiency through coordination of advertising in different media, rather than just cutting costs," said Ira Carlin, chairman of Universal McCann. "And the focus was on added value. Specifically, how do you connect with Generation Y where they live."

George Hayes, chief operating officer, Local Communications, New York, a sibling Interpublic media agency, led the Sony pitch and will likely head the assignment at Universal McCann.

According to Mr. Carlin, the Sony win represents a first success for the "new" Universal McCann in which planning will be a priority.

The review began a year ago but the process dragged on. "It was tough enough achieving consensus," Mr. Stringer said. "This was no easy feat."

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