Unilever win affirms MindShare strategy

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Unilever's search for an agency to handle $575 million of its media planning and buying business, awarded to WPP Group's MindShare last week, ushered in the age of the unbundled media giants.

When the Dutch-Anglo company first sent out its requests for proposals on Oct. 18, 1999, MindShare was just starting to merge the media departments of Ogilvy & Mather and J. Walter Thompson; Omnicom's Optimum Media Direction was scrambling for office space; Interpublic Group of Cos' Initiative Media was still called Western; and the Botway Group was an independent shop that handled the bulk of Unilever's media buying business.

One year later, Botway is part of Initiative, OMD has plenty of desks and cubicles and MindShare has completed its mergers. In handing its business to MindShare, Unilever affirmed that agency's unbundling philosophy, which is to offer both planning and buying services to its customers.

"Unilever is the very first very large, fully consolidated buying and planning assignment by a package-goods company," said Irwin Gotlieb, MindShare's CEO. "If you look outside the U.S., they've always put buying with planning. It's a relatively new phenomenon here, but I think it is being proved very rapidly."

Unilever spends about $700 million on advertising in the U.S. Unilever itself handles the media planning and buying of all its print executions, an account not included in the review.

The rest of the media spending was spread between various agencies, including Ogilvy and JWT. MindShare had handled half of Unilever's planning business through Ogilvy and JWT Thompson. The other half was spread out among Unilever's many creative shops. Agency of record responsibility for national and local TV buying had been handled by the Botway Group, purchased by Initiative last year in a bid to gain leverage in the review. Media planning and buying for Slim Fast and Ben & Jerry's were not included in the review.

"We conducted the review to focus on Unilever Channel Planning," said Brad Simmons, Unilever's director of media. "This is a Unilever process in which media services assist with the brands, working with the creative agencies. The role for the agency would be to identify and facilitate the best Win affirms philosophy marketing mix, and develop preliminary budget allocations. And we also focused, more traditionally, on strategic media planning and buying. We had two strong presentations by two top agencies but MindShare in the end had the best combination of those three elements. Their particular strength was their strategic resource, both in terms of their past performance and what they demonstrated in the review."

OMD dropped out of the review several months ago, leaving MindShare and Initiative in a showdown.

In a cost saving move, Unilever earlier this year had dropped several hundred products in order to concentrate on promoting its larger brands. It then purchased Bestfoods, which includes the Knorr and Hellmann's brands. Just last week, Unilever announced it would begin a strategic review of its European food accounts in early 2001, which include the Van Den Bergh and Bestfoods products there. Agencies asked to compete for that account, valued in the hundreds of millions, include Lowe Lintas & Parnters, O&M, JWT, DDB Worldwide and BBDO Worldwide.


There was a moment near the final sprint in the review when Mr. Gotlieb's heart may have skipped a beat. That was late last month, when Peter Chrisanthopolous, MindShare's president and director of national broadcast, left the agency to join Azteca America, a Hispanic television network startup. Several days later, MindShare announced it had hired Marc Goldstein, exec VP-managing director at Interpublic Group of Cos.' GM Mediaworks, to take his place. According to an executive close to the agency, Unilever was concerned about Mr. Chrisanthopolous' departure, but was relieved when Mr. Goldstein was named as his successor. In an internal memo written by Bob Jeffrey, President of J. Walter Thompson, New York, to his agency staff, he congratulated MindShare on the win and singled out "the combined efforts of Peter Chrisanthopoulos and Marc Goldstein."

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