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Mazda's Review of $150 Million Advertising Account Deals Another Blow to Doner

Automaker Says 'Zoom Zoom' Tagline to Stay No Matter What

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Embattled independent agency Doner, which is adjusting to the loss of its longtime CEO Alan Kalter and spent much of last year dealing with messy legal battles, is now facing the potential loss of its biggest piece of business: Mazda. The automaker today confirmed its estimated $150 million North American advertising account is in review, and a spokesman told Ad Age the duties up for grabs encompass "basically all the work Doner handles."

Mazda, with the help of Boston-based Pile & Co., is currently in the process of reaching out to agencies to handle creative work, as well as some media and digital duties. According to the car maker's spokesman, Mazda decided it was time for a review because the company "wants to be sure we're getting the best work and the best price." He added that Doner is "absolutely" invited to defend the account if it wishes.

A Doner spokeswoman told Ad Age the agency, which has had the account for 13 years, intends to "vigorously fight for our business" and that it believes "our best work is in front of us."

Keeping 'Zoom Zoom'
Interestingly, Mazda intends to keep Doner's "Zoom, Zoom" tagline regardless of whether the agency retains the account.

The review comes amid of wave of car marketers changing up their agency partners on the back of one of the toughest years for the industry. In recent months Chrysler has completed revamped its roster of shops, breaking ties with Omnicom Group shops; General Motors' Chevrolet brand tapped Publicis for work and Publicis-backed Bartle Bogle Hegarty, New York, as its new agency for Cadillac; and Volkswagen moved its account from Crispin Porter & Bogusky to Deutsch, Los Angeles. Mitsubishi Motors' ad account is also currently in review.

Mazda has seen some positive momentum recently. Last month, it reported sales of 17,054, a 4% boost over the prior month. The Japanese automaker's North AmericanCEO, Jim O'Sullivan, earlier this year said he expects sales to be on par, or even slightly better than the overall U.S. industry with the help of its Mazda 2 small car in 2010.

Terrible blow
Losing Mazda -- or even a significant piece of it -- would be a terrible blow to Southfield, Mich.-based Doner; it has counted the automaker as its largest and highest-profile account since 1997. While the agency boasts some other sizable marketers, like Coca-Cola's Minute Maid, Amazon, the UPS Store and the Del Taco fast-food chain, it recently parted with Expedia, and suffered a tumultuous 2009 that was marked by a string of staff departures and legal problems.

Last year, the agency's longtime creative force and vice chairman, John DeCerchio, departed the agency and then sued it in a dispute over the size of the payout related to his 32% equity stake in the shop. Mr. DeCerchio said he was owed $55 million over 10 years; Doner said he was owed $51.5 million.

Another partner and 30-plus-year executive at the agency, H. Barry Levine, quit after then-CEO Alan Kalter admitted that the agency's pension fund was not in compliance with federal disclosure laws and regulations.

In December, Mr. Kalter sold his stake in the agency to Chief Operating Officer David DeMuth, Chief Creative Officer Rob Strasberg and President Tim Blett, saying that "the next chapter is ready to be written." Facing the prospect of parting with Mazda is obviously not how anyone on the new leadership team wanted the agency's new era to begin.

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