CONTINENTAL TO TRIM AGENCIES AFTER GIVING AYER LEAD STATUS: RE-EVALUATING COUNTRY-BY-COUNTRY FOR 1998 BUSINESS

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Having named N.W. Ayer & Partners, New York, as lead global agency for its $50 million ad account, Continental Airlines is now looking to trim its agency lineup around the world.

Continental currently works with 10 agencies globally. That number is expected to decrease, in part as Ayer picks up responsibility from local agencies in some markets. But the airline said last week it has no plans to consolidate its entire account at one agency.

'COUNTRY-BY-COUNTRY'

"We will be re-evaluating what we're doing on a country-by-country basis for '98," said Richard Metzner, Continental VP-marketing programs. But, he added, "We're not getting to a point where all our ads are [going to be] developed in New York and translated for Lisbon and Texas."

Continental has taken a local-market approach to advertising for several years, particularly as it concentrated on improving its on-time performance and other basics.

Mary Lou Quinlan, Ayer president-CEO, said the agency's upcoming work for Continental will focus on the airline's high level of service. Continental has been flying high recently after an operational overhaul.

"Brand advertising for a lot of new airline campaigns has been a substitute for product service," Ms. Quinlan said.

Indeed, Continental decided to put its account in review after realizing "the focus on our product and delivery of our product were sustainable," said Mr. Metzner. "We came to the conclusion at the end of last year to take a look at how we were managing our business from a communications standpoint."

"We did not," he added, "approach this process as, 'We need a new campaign, so let's go get one.' "

Ayer beat out a list of agencies that included the Richards Group, Dallas, Continental's domestic shop since 1993.

AYER'S ADVANTAGE

Ayer had an advantage over other contenders for the account due to an existing relationship with Continental. The agency created an in-your-face outdoor campaign to promote Continental in the New York market. The ads, which promoted Continental service out of New Jersey's Newark International Airport, drew fire from New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani for poking fun at New York.

Continental's choice of a new agency follows recent account switches at United Airlines and Delta Air Lines. Although some of the contenders for the Continental account also pitched the other airlines' business, Mr. Metzner said he has a different approach in mind.

"Both United and Delta created this expectation that things would change [creatively] for them-we did not want to do that," he said. "However, we're very

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