American Express Consolidates Global Media Business With IPG’s UM, Ending 20 Year Mindshare Relationship

Brand spends around $400 million annually

WPP's agency worked with the brand for around two decades. Getty Images
Headshot of Patrick Coffee

American Express has concluded a global media review officially launched in May, choosing IPG’s Universal McCann (UM) as its new media agency of record. The network will handle all planning and buying work while partnering with AmEx creative shops to promote the financial brand’s “Powerful Backing” brand platform around the world.

MediaLink managed the review. All competing agencies were alerted this morning.

“I am energized and excited to work with Universal McCann to help us drive our business forward,” said Elizabeth Rutledge, who became American Express chief marketing officer in February. “Our goal was to select the best talent and leverage the best agency partner around the world to help us elevate our brand, deepen relationships with our customers and prospects and drive greater marketing efficiency and effectiveness across our business.”

She added, “We selected UM because we were impressed with their capabilities across media, technology and data and insights, as well as their commitment to building teams with diverse experiences and diverse perspectives.”

"We selected UM because we were impressed with their capabilities across media, technology and data and insights, as well as their commitment to building teams with diverse experiences and diverse perspectives."
Elizabeth Rutledge, CMO, American Express

UM global CEO Daryl Lee said it’s “an incredibly exciting time for American Express, and we are honored to partner with them to help drive better outcomes for their business.”

“We have been so impressed with how the American Express team lives and breathes the brand every day,” Lee said. “Their expectations were high, and we tapped into the full resources of IPG to meet them. Together, we will be a united front to demonstrate the Powerful Backing of American Express around the world.”

This marks a significant loss for WPP. Mindshare, part of the GroupM network, was the incumbent on the business for about two decades after winning the account away from Ogilvy. It also follows the news that Ford and GSK would be moving some or all of their business away from the holding company.

“We have enjoyed a long relationship with Mindshare globally over many years and we are incredibly grateful for their partnership,” said a client spokesperson, adding that the agency will continue working on the business through early 2019 and that Ogilvy will also retain portions of the creative work.

Publicis Groupe’s Digitas, which has worked with American Express since its own founding more than 25 years ago and handled portions of the brand’s digital planning and buying responsibilities, also lost that work. It will, however, maintain existing digital creative responsibilities, which reportedly amount to a larger portion of the business in terms of annual revenues.

Other finalists in the review included Omnicom and Dentsu Aegis Network. Spokespeople for both companies, in addition to Digitas and Mindshare, declined to comment and referred to the client. MediaLink did not comment beyond confirming its role.

Multiple sources said that while agencies like Digitas and Mindshare technically pitched on behalf of their parent companies, each competitor truly acted on a holding group basis, with international teams across digital and media shops pitching in. The RFP went out in May, and several sources told Adweek the pitch process intensified during a series of meetings at the Cannes Lions Festival in July that involved MediaLink and all participating agencies.

By all accounts, each competitor put its best work forward. One person said the review was unique in placing equal value on three distinct capabilities: brand building, performance and pure data. While most companies focus on the first two categories while running data audits of their prospective agency partners, AmEx reportedly conducted in-depth tests of all competitors’ capabilities.

Another party involved in the review suggested that this approach will soon become standard, especially for advertisers like AmEx that need to focus on both humanizing their brand with campaigns like this mcgarrybowen spot starring Lin-Manuel Miranda while also maximizing card acquisition and usage efforts.

This was the first major pitch following IPG’s June acquisition of database company Acxiom for more than $2 billion. American Express had a pre-existing relationship with Acxiom, which helped the company launch Predictive Intent Segments, an offering designed to help better target its marketing efforts, last year.

According to Kantar Media, American Express spent approximately $295 million in measured media in the U.S. last year and $167 million in the first half of 2018.

International consultancy R3, which counts AmEx as a client, estimated its global spending total at just under $400 million.

Like many major advertisers, the financial company has invested far less in traditional formats like broadcast and radio in recent years, opting instead to shift toward custom content while continuing a longstanding focus on highly visible out of home placements.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.