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Queered pitch

March 19, 2008

When the media business of a blue-blooded consumer products MNC comes up for review after close to eight years, you’d expect plenty to be at stake. And there is, including an account worth Rs 150 crore, as well as the future of India’s largest independent media agency.

The multinational in question is Procter & Gamble (along with Gillette, which P&G acquired globally in early-2005). The all-Indian media agency is Sam Balsara’s Madison Communications. The media buying activity for P&G and Gillette together is currently done by Madison. It is estimated that the total media spend on the P&G account is around Rs 150 crore per annum. This is across brands like Ariel, Tide, Head & Shoulders and Pantene. P&G initiated the fresh pitch last October and, by early March, at least, four agencies had thrown their hat into the ring. Starcom, which has been planning media for all P&G brands, is once again in the race, as is WPP agency Mediacom, which plans media for Gillette brands. Another agency Carat (a part of the Aegis Group), which handles the P&G business in a few countries, has also staked its claim.

So why would P&G be keen to review its media business after so long a time? There is, of course, no clear-cut answer to that—not from P&G India. A company spokesperson says that across the globe, P&G’s agency partners play a critical role in P&G’s success. “From time to time, we engage with incumbent as well as external partners to understand what capabilities exist in the market and to ensure that P&G benefits from best in class tools and teams. Calling a pitch is one way of doing this and we don’t see this as an exceptional situation,” adds the spokesperson. Quite clearly, this is one of the most prestigious assignments for any agency that wins the business. Fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) is a big-spend category, and in most cases, media spends increase over time, which works well for the agency.

What would worry Madison’s Balsara is the keenness of WPP to get a piece of P&G, via Mediacom, which is the media planning and buying arm of Grey (which was acquired by WPP in early-2005). WPP’s main media company is GroupM (along with its divisions). Now GroupM can’t pitch for P&G, because it handles arch rival Unilever’s media planning and buying business.

It is now gathered that Mediacom and Madison made a joint presentation for the P&G business. Balsara, Nirvik Singh, Grey Global Group’s Chairman (South Asia) and President (South-East Asia), and Vikram Sakhuja, GroupM’s CEO India and COO South Asia, declined to comment.

That Balsara is willing to partner with WPP on one big account begs the obvious question: Would Madison be sold to WPP lock, stock and Balsara? Balsara has been screaming for some time now that he’s not for sale. Not yet.

Krishna Gopalan

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