Walmart has named Publicis Groupe its U.S. media agency of record after working with WPP's Haworth shop for the last five years, according to an announcement. The transition is effective immediately and pairs Publicis closely with Walmart's existing agency roster of Deutsch LA and FCB.
The big-box brand has a long-running creative partnership with Publicis and now looks to link creative and media capabilities closer together as it builds out its integrated omnichannel offerings. The ad holding company will handle services such as media strategy, planning, buying and partnerships.
The agency pitch for Walmart's media business was the largest to date this year, with most major ad holding companies, including WPP, participating. It marks a win for Publicis as the group ramps up its own investments in areas like retail media and commerce.
Publicis scores a major piece of new business following a request for proposal (RFP) process that Walmart marketing chief William White described in a statement as "incredibly competitive." The account could help the ad holding group extend fresh tailwinds that have risen as brands turn back on the spending taps following a fallow pandemic period. Walmart has been the top retail advertiser across digital, TV and print so far in 2021, according to a June report by MediaRadar, outspending Amazon by 6%.
"We are impressed with their people, their marketing thought leadership and their expertise in full-funnel planning, execution and measurement capabilities," White said of Publicis in the announcement. "We know they are going to help drive our business forward by reaching and engaging our customers in compelling and innovative ways."
With the move, Walmart takes another step to bridge creative and media operations during a period of intense transformation. Earlier this year, the brand introduced a chief creative officer role, tapping Jean Batthany, previously of Disney's in-house shop Yellow Shoes, for the appointment.
The big-box store is investing heavily in its retail media network to get more brands to advertise across its in-store and online properties. At the same time, it's propping up its largest shot across the bow to Amazon yet in Walmart+, a subscription service with an annual cost of $98 that’s been in-market for nearly a year. E-commerce, generally, has grown fiercely competitive as more retailers make the jump to digital channels due to the pandemic.
Beyond its existing creative partnership with Walmart, Publicis is placing similar bets on categories like retail media. Last month, the group acquired CitrusAd, a software platform that helps brands optimize their marketing performance on e-commerce sites. It will pair CitrusAd closely with its Epsilon data-marketing unit.
The news marks another blow to WPP's ties to Walmart. The retailer in 2019 in-housed its website ad sales and related analytics work, ending a relationship with WPP's Triad. Walmart was Triad's largest client, according to Ad Age, and the firm shut its doors not long after the account loss.
Ad holding groups across the board are benefiting from fresh marketing activity as brands try to keep pace with pandemic disruptions and changing needs in fields like data and commerce. Publicis saw organic growth, a key measure of agency health, increase 17.1% in the second quarter — better performance than it posted over the same period in 2019, well before COVID-19 rocked the agency category.