McCann Worldgroup's retention of the high-profile US Army marketing and advertising brief is clearly good news for parent company Interpublic Group, but it is a particular tribute to the input of the PR part of the operation handled by Weber Shandwick.
With an overall budget of up to $200 million a year over five years, the contract was hard fought, and my understanding is that McCann won the final showdown from two WPP consortia, one led by Grey and including Hill & Knowlton as PR lead, the other spearheaded by Young & Rubicam, with Burson-Marsteller providing the PR element.
The key to success with the Army account is essentially encouraging young men and women to enroll in the service at a time when there have been almost 6,000 military fatalities in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in the last decade. Recruitment is typically stronger in poorer communities, and Weber and sister firm Casanova Pendrill's experience in targeting Hispanic audiences was another positive point for the IPG bid.
The work Weber did in rolling out the Army Strong campaign theme in recent years was particularly well-received and won a PRWeek Award for Best Use of Social Media/Digital in 2011.
This account comes up for review on a statutory basis every five years, and the message from IPG Towers will no doubt be that this was business as usual and just a statutory process that had to be gone through.
But I'm not sure it was as simple as that. Whispers in the marketplace suggested top brass at Army HQ weren't exactly enamored with everything about the McCann approach to the business, which may have lacked a little in terms of basic client courtesies such as discipline and punctuality. And I also understand that IPG put an alternative bid together under the Draftfcb brand, with Golin Harris providing the PR element of the work. Presumably IPG wouldn't have done this if it was 100% confident of retaining the work under the McCann umbrella – not that anyone can be totally sure of winning any pitch these days.
Embarking on these statutory pitches is not an adventure to be taken lightly. They require an immense amount of work, with mountains of paperwork and thousands of i's to be dotted and t's to be crossed. One mistake and you risk federal opprobrium, and that's not something to be invited voluntarily.
No doubt the procurement teams at Army HQ also pushed McCann's extremely hard on price – but, notwithstanding this, it is undoubtedly a great retention for IPG.