IBM launches global PR agency review

Long-time agency partners Ketchum and Text100 on alert as technology giant looks to make final decisions by end of March.

ARMONK, NY: IBM has kicked off a global agency review and expects to make final decisions by the end of the month.

IBM’s CCO Ray Day explained he is focused on strengthening and integrating the company’s agency partners. He wants to create a "blended team," which he defines as full integration between IBM’s in-house talent and its agency partners.

IBM’s RFP process started on March 9. The company reviewed proposals over the weekend, is meeting with finalists next week, and expects to make final decisions by the end of March.

All of IBM’s current agency partners, such as long-standing incumbents Text100 and Ketchum, along with several newcomers, were invited to participate in the pitch. IBM currently works with 20 PR firms.

Ketchum and Text100 have been working with IBM since 2001. Text100 has decided not to pitch. A representative from Ketchum declined to comment.

"The dream is that when you get everyone together, you no longer talk about who is in-house or who is agency; you focus on building world class comms," said Day. "That is what we are trying to do."

Day added that, due to the "wide diversity" of IBM’s business, the company will award its comms and citizenship support to a collection of agencies.

"We will likely have a couple of anchor global agencies that can provide widespread comms support, augmented by specialty agencies that go into our business areas such as health, specific areas of tech such as blockchain, quantum computing, and research," Day said.

When asked how many agencies IBM is bringing on, Day said the company is "not focused on a number," just the "best collection of agency partners to work hand-in-hand to build up a world class comms function."

Budget information was not disclosed.

Day, a former Ford Motor Company vet, joined IBM in December last year, succeeding IBM marketing and communications executive Jon Iwata, who was at the company for 34 years. He explained his first priority was reorganizing the company’s in-house team "based on the story IBM is telling and the audience [the company] is trying to reach."

Earlier this month, IBM brought on four comms execs, including Edelman's Erin Roche as VP of communications for systems and Kevin McDermott as VP of strategic and executive communications from Collective Intelligence.

Day added that he has three strategic objectives for IBM’s comms and citizenship teams: To improve reputation among all stakeholders; build brand favorability and product consideration; and expand communication capability and expertise.

Text100 CEO Aedhmar Hynes said in a blog post on Tuesday that stepping away from her firm’s 17-relationship with IBM "wasn’t an easy choice."

"Over the years, hundreds of Texties and IBMers partnered on some of the most recognized - and honored - communications programs in our industry," Hynes said. "From OnDemand, to Smarter Planet, to IBM Watson, the entire IBM communications team set a high standard for our industry."

She explained that the "bold spirit" that led Text100 to take on the challenge of IBM 17 years ago is still at the heart of what the firm does.

Text100 is "proud to have played a small part in [IBM’s] history," and is "bullish on the future for IBM," added Hynes.

IBM’s chief comms officer position has seen turnover in recent years. Ben Edwards held the comms head role in 2013 and Mike Fay succeeded him in 2014. In April 2016, IBM hired Andy Whitehouse to the role of VP of global communications and CCO, but he departed in February 2017. At that point, Iwata took on the specific role of comms head again, before Day succeeded him in December.

IBM reported better-than-expected earnings in the fourth quarter of last year, the first time in five years it saw revenue growth. It also took a one-time charge of $5.5 billion due to the tax-reform law, according to CNBC.

Editor's note: This story was updated on March 20 to say Text100 decided not to pitch and add comment from Hynes.

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