Agencies must think carefully before joining up

The US Army has just released the statutory five-year review of its $1.35 billion marketing and advertising program, including its PR and communications requirements.

The US Army has just released the statutory five-year review of its $1.35 billion marketing and advertising program, including its PR and communications requirements.

It's one of the biggest accounts in the market and estimates of the PR element of it range from $5 million to $40 million, depending on who you believe and the agenda of the person giving you that information.

McCann Worldgroup is the incumbent, with Weber Shandwick handling PR. Fleishman-Hillard, Edelman, Young & Rubicam, Qorvis Communications, and MS&LGroup have already thrown their hats into the ring by listing themselves as interested vendors, and McCann says it will follow suit. So, busy weeks lie ahead as the major networks prepare to put their best feet forward to try and win the business.

Statutory reviews take different forms. Sometimes a supplier is perfectly happy with its current arrangements and is conducting the exercise out of due diligence and best practice. At other times they are ready for a change.

Agencies have to assess which category the Army contract comes under, because the time, effort and expense involved in pitching for a contract like this are considerable and not to be undertaken lightly. The consensus seems to be that IPG has done pretty well, particularly with its “Army Strong” slogan and campaign.

In addition to this, the Army got its head around the concept of procurement very early on in its evolution, and strikes a mighty hard bargain, not being afraid to draw on the emotion that goes with issues such as defending the country and supporting the troops as a negotiating tool.

It's also a very different brief than it was five years ago. The war in Afghanistan is now America's longest in history, and there have been new peaks in casualty figures for US troops recently. Persuading young men to join up is a tough task in that context.

And the nature of the armed forces means the chain of command changes regularly, which makes it difficult to build the same enduring relationships that are possible with most clients.

An account this size can also skew a supplier if it comprises too large a percentage of its overall business, so only the robust and big offices need apply.

Ultimately, the Army account is an enormous and attractive piece of business, but potential suppliers must ensure it doesn't turn into a poisoned chalice.

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