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Lewis Lazare follows Chicago media and marketing news

Recently in S.C. Johnson Category

The battle for the $1 billion S.C. Johnson advertising account -- one of the most hotly-contested and closely-watched agency reviews of the new decade -- is moving along.

Sources now tell us the agencies in serious contention for the $1 billion S.C. Johnson account now housed at DraftFCB/Chicago may have been whittled down to no more than five. And (drum roll) they are said to be (in alphabetical order): incumbent DraftFCB; McGarryBowen; Ogilvy & Mather, TBWA/Chiat/Day, and Young & Rubicam.

David Beals at R3:JLB/Chicago, which is orchestrating the review in conjunction with S.C. Johnson executives, declined comment. But sources say S.C. Johnson wants to make a decision by the start of its next fiscal year in July. Or preferably several weeks earlier.

The winner, of course, will need to have some global heft to service such a huge account in all markets where it must be serviced. And any of the aforementioned shops certainly would have the necessary resources at their disposal to handle the S.C. Johnson business globally.

But our sources say McGarryBowen, which has had huge success courting Kraft Foods accounts in recent years, just may have an edge. Sources say Mark Modesto, ousted abruptly from DraftFCB last summer, has been reaching out to McGarryBowen, which could possibly be interested in his services once his non-compete clause with DraftFCB expires. Modesto could be key in deciding how this review plays out because he is said to still be very close to key members of the Johnson family that control the giant household products company.

And though McGarryBowen itself does not have a huge international network, it is now part of Dentsu, which is well-established internationally.

It's certainly not the Christmas present DraftFCB/Chicago would have wanted. But S.C. Johnson, one of the agency's longest-standing and biggest clients, said Wednesday it is putting its entire portfolio of brands into review.

A S.C. Johnson spokeswoman said Thursday that DraftFCB will defend the business. If the agency emerges victorious from the review -- a big if in the eyes of some observers -- a major bloodbath at the agency could be averted.

One source familiar with agency staffing estimated that a loss of all the S.C. Johnson business could result in as many as 200 to 300 layoffs at DraftFCB. This would be catastrophic for DraftFCB and for the Chicago advertising industry, which has been reeling for several years now from agency downsizing and wave after wave of client defections.

Speculation immediately turned to which local shops might be able to win the business and keep it here. But the list of viable prospects doesn't look to be very long. Leo Burnett might be reluctant to participate because of its close ties to Procter & Gamble, but sources said there don't appear to be any major direct conflicts on the agency's client roster.

Some mentioned Energy BBDO, but it might be too small unless it managed to partner with other Omnicom agencies to create a global network. Element 79 has been mentioned as well. Agency leader Brian Williams headed up Foote Cone & Belding prior to its merger with Draft. He is very familiar with S.C. Johnson. But Element 79 also would have to partner with other Omnicom shops to create any global heft -- an arrangement that might be awkward at best.

But there's another intriguing scenario that has been mentioned. DDB/Chicago could appoint Mark Modesto as its new president and CEO, thereby paving the way for him to help the agency land the S.C. Johnson business.

Modesto had been in charge of the S.C. Johnson North American business at DraftFCB until he was abruptly ousted in August. But it's unclear how favorably he is now viewed within S.C. Johnson because of the fallout from his departure from DraftFCB. The addition of the huge S.C. Johnson account would be a major boost to the beleaguered DDB.

The ineffectual Rick Carpenter resigned as DDB/Chicago president and CEO in early December.

S.C. Johnson has dropped a huge bomb. The Racine, Wis.-based global giant in home care is putting the advertising accounts for its entire global portfolio of brands into review -- business potentially worth hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to the agency or agencies that wind up winning the business. Chicago-based R3:JLB will assist S.C. Johnson in selecting the agencies to compete in the review.

A S.C. Johnson spokeswoman said the agency review is all about improving the company's marketing services capabilities and will encompass all aspects of the company's global marketing needs, including advertising, digital/Internet, shopper marketing, promotions, direct marketing and media buying and planning.

S.C. Johnson's decision to put its entire portfolio of brands into review could spell disaster for DraftFCB/Chicago, which, dating back as far as 1953, has handled advertising for a large number of S.C. Johnson brands. Other agencies S.C. Johnson works with include RG/A, Ogilvy and Mullen. The S.C. Johnson spokeswoman indicated incumbents will be invited to participate in the review.

DraftFCB/Chicago of course is no stranger to bombshell developments. The Walmart debacle of several years ago saw DraftFCB/Chicago win the retailing behemoth's $600 million advertising account -- only to lose it just weeks later when Walmart executives began to question the manner in which the agency won the business. A loss of all or a large chunk of the S.C. Johnson business would be far more crippling to the agency because it is so much a part of the fabric of the shop.

The S.C. Johnson spokeswoman said there was no timetable established as yet for how quickly the review would be completed. But she said the review will focus on agencies that have a global knowledge and network and that align with the company's values and have a track record of building successful global brands.



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Lewis Lazare has written the Media Mix column for the Chicago Sun-Times for the past seven and a half years.

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