Emily Tan
Jul 9, 2015

EXCLUSIVE: Etihad Airways Partner airlines choose Starcom for global media

GLOBAL - Publicis Groupe-owned Starcom Media Group has won the global media planning and buying account for Etihad Airways and its three-largest partner airlines: Alitalia, Air Berlin and Jet Airways.

EXCLUSIVE: Etihad Airways Partner airlines choose Starcom for global media

This win is the first of an estimated 21 major global and North American media reviews currently taking place.

Several agency networks were invited to the pitch, which was called in April, including Etihad Airways' incumbent media agency, MediaCom, OMD and UM.  

Incumbents for the other airlines involved were OMD for Air Berlin, Mindshare for Alitalia and Dentsu Aegis Network for Jet Airways. 

The combined media spend of all the airlines is unknown. But when MediaCom and Digitas LBi won Etihad's media and digital accounts, respectively, in 2012, the estimated spend was US$160 million. Numbers from the AdAge Data Centre place the Etihad Airways global media spend at US$124 million in 2013. 

According to a statement, Starcom is tasked with delivering scaled benefits for the Etihad Airways Partner (EAP) airlines by aligning media spend across key markets. 

"The deal will provide millions of dollars in added value," said Shane O’Hare, Etihad Airways’ senior vice-president of marketing. "As part of the larger group of airlines, we want to use our size to leverage the right contracts, that enable us to continue to grow our commercial operations."

Starcom is also responsible for providing centralised and strategic advice to meet the airline grouping’s unique commercial needs. 

"Each airline has its own network, audience and sphere of influence and requires an agency that will understand each of the airline’s individual needs and requirements," explained O'Hare. 

Starcom was selected because it was also able to demonstrate its comprehension of the emerging media scene said O'Hare in a statement. “Their highly experienced team, resources, planning tools and buying clout in all the key EAP markets gave them a clear edge in the tender.”

"Starcom’s solution was backed with data, insights and relevance to the brand’s core values," added Gaurang Shetty, senior VP commercial at Jet Airways. 

The airline partners decided to work from a combined account as it would allow Starcom to maximise returns on the group’s collective investment, added O'Hare. However, the agency would also work to ensure that each brand experience remains unique and attains “optimum exposure on a global scale”.

Etihad Airways Partners launched in October last year. The alliance also includes Air Serbia, Air Seychelles and Etihad Regional. 

Last August, Etihad bought a 49 per cent stake in Alitalia for US$2.4 billion and has since launched a rebrand.  

"This new partnership kicks off at a very exciting time for Alitalia," said Ariodante Valeri, Alitalia’s chief commercial officer. "We have just launched the new livery of Alitalia aircraft, the new design of the cabins and new premium services for our guests. Alitalia is rapidly increasing its global reach with new long-haul services between Italy and China, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates, areas of the world which are rapidly growing." 

The agreement with Starcom, he continued, will bring "significant synergies" for the partnership group and will allow Alitalia better access to traditional and digital media in all key markets.

Matt Blackborn, president for investment and diversification at Starcom MediaVest Group, noted that this brief is unique as it brings together multiple brands from the same industry. “[It’s] ground-breaking in the agency world,” he said.

Starcom will service the EAP airlines from key hubs placed in the United Arab Emirates, Germany, Italy and India, with central coordination from its EMEA head office in London.

According to Campaign Middle-East, Digitas LBi, which manages Etihad Airways’ digital media strategy, search and affiliate marketing, is unaffected by the review. The airline’s account with creative agency M&C Saatchi is also unchanged following the review. 
This article was updated after publication to include an email interview with Shane O’Hare, Etihad Airways’ senior vice-president of marketing.

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