Discover enlists Burson as global AOR

CHICAGO: Discover Financial Services has hired Burson-Marsteller as its global AOR following a competitive pitch.

CHICAGO: Discover Financial Services has hired Burson-Marsteller as its global AOR following a competitive pitch. The review began in December, and the agency began work this week, according to Kathy Beiser, VP of corporate communications at the financial services company.

Beiser, who joined the company four years ago as its first VP of communications, said that industry-wide changes, as well as company-specific ones, such as Discover's 2007 spin-off from Morgan Stanley, instigated the need for a review. Two years ago, Discover also bought Diner's Club International, expanding its reach, although its 6% of US market share is much smaller than competitors like Visa and MasterCard.

“We've been building our team over the last four years,” she said of her internal communications staff. “We've evolved from a credit card issuer to a leader in direct banking. We see our role as facilitating that relationship, building trust between us and our stakeholders, post-recession.”

After issuing an RFI and a follow-up RFP, the review came down to five finalists. Four-year incumbent on the account, Robinson Lerer & Montgomery (RLM), was among them, but Beiser declined to name the other firms, which were a mix of midsize and large agencies.

“We had a terrific relationship with them,” Beiser said of RLM. “We just felt we needed to review. A lot has changed at Discover… The industry itself has gone through unprecedented changes in the last few years. All of us in the industry are looking at our communications.”

RLM president Michael Gross did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Beiser said no specific campaign is imminent, rather the company is “very focused on corporate reputation [and] consumer” issues.

Bill Zucker, Burson Chicago MD and Midwest market leader, noted the account will be led from Chicago, where Discover is also headquartered, but draw on agency experience from around the country. He declined to go into further specifics.

“They presented us with a lot of exciting creative ideas, and they have deep knowledge in the industry,” Beiser said. “We were looking at capabilities and experience. It was really the need for senior counsel.”

A former MD and nine-year veteran of Burson, Beiser said she hired independent consultant Dan Orsborn to run the search to ensure an "even playing field." She noted that senior leadership from across the company weighed in on the decision, including Discover president and COO Roger Hochschild, who attended pitch meetings.

She declined to reveal the budget, citing company policy, but called it “very healthy.” The final terms of the contract with the agency was still underway but Beiser said she hoped it would be a long relationship.

Updated March 3, 2010, 11:48am

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