EDITORIAL: WPP's Pfizer assignment reveals just how far holding companies must go to please a client

WPP's newly coined WPP Health Success is gearing up to service Pfizer's selected cardiovascular brands. Meanwhile, some wonder whether the review that led to the assignment signals an emerging trend of clients asking holding companies to offer up their best-of-class talent across brands to pitch their business.

WPP's newly coined WPP Health Success is gearing up to service Pfizer's selected cardiovascular brands. Meanwhile, some wonder whether the review that led to the assignment signals an emerging trend of clients asking holding companies to offer up their best-of-class talent across brands to pitch their business.

"I think it will happen more and more," says Harris Diamond, Weber Shandwick CEO, which pitched the account as part of Interpublic's team. "It follows what occurred in the ad arena and other marketing sectors." The Pfizer review differs from Omnicom's IBM pitch - which resulted in the creation of team One Blue - in a number of key ways. For starters, One Blue was Omnicom's competitive construct, and not created at IBM's instigation. In addition, individuals on the account team still work at the component agencies themselves, namely Brodeur and Ketchum, instead of within just one of them. Though WPP's model is still being created, some of the Pfizer team will be moved to the account's headquarters within Cohn & Wolfe. This is the kind of review WPP may have foreseen when former Hill & Knowlton chairman and CEO Howard Paster was asked to assume an overarching role in the holding company. "It was possible for WPP to bring together the right individuals from five agencies in seven cities to address the client's requirements," Paster says. "Certainly, our ability to respond was enhanced by our structure enabling me to reach across the group to identify and to involve the right people for the tasks at hand." The motivation for companies to create this kind of a review process seems clear on the surface, as clients continue to feel cost pressure. "This is happening for what seems like logical reasons," says Stephen Boehler, CEO of search and recruitment consultancy Mercer Island Group. "Procurement is creating a natural emphasis on finding ways to get holding companies to reduce rates." But Boehler believes there are inherent problems with companies appealing directly to the holding company. For one thing, he says, the "client scorecard" keeps changing, making it difficult for agencies to navigate the terrain. "Clients have, in many cases, raised ridiculous conflict issues that are really not overt conflicts, but because of their massive power, they're able to pressure agencies into having extraordinarily broad definitions of 'conflict,'" he explains. "By demanding best teams across a network, they are further complicating the conflict issue." After all, isn't conflict avoidance a key reason why holding companies have so many brands in the first place? Boehler also believes that all holding companies may not be prepared to handle this kind of review. "There are no best practices established yet in how different aspects of a holding company may work together to best meet a major client's needs," he says. Parent companies may challenge Boehler's assertion, but there are other, less tangible concerns that this kind of review provokes. One is whether it is fair to ask competing brands to abandon individual cultures and band together. We know - there's no such thing as "fair" any more. Let's hope "smart" is still in the lexicon. In any case, this Pfizer team's performance will be watched closely, as will that of the copycats that may follow.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in