DDB LOBBIES TO REGAIN VOLKSWAGEN BIZ IN U.S.

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DDB Needham Worldwide, still celebrating its recouped McDonald's Corp. account, is trying to win back Volkswagen of America.

According to executives familiar with the situation, DDB Needham is lobbying to recover the U.S. advertising and also South American and possibly Scandinavian business.

PARTING OF THE WAYS

The agency parted with VW of America in 1994, when the $80 million-plus account shifted to then-spinoff Berlin, Wright & Cameron, also owned by parent Omnicom Group. That agency lost the account to Arnold Communications, Boston, in 1995.

DDB Needham currently handles VW in 28 countries, representing billings of more than $450 million, making it the agency's largest account globally. The agency has the automaker in its home country, Germany, where spending is $120 million.

SECRET PROJECT

One executive close to DDB Needham said talks were held between top agency and VW executives last month about the business. Word in the ad community is that DDB Needham has hired free-lance creatives with extensive auto experience to work on a secret project, which executives close to the agency believe is VW in the U.S. and South America.

DDB Needham coordinates the global VW account out of its London office, BMP DDB; that office is taking a lead role in the new effort.

DDB Needham executives could not be reached for comment at press time; VW executives denied there have been talks.

The agency and VW have a long history in the U.S. Forerunner Doyle Dane Bernbach introduced the Beetle to America in 1949. In more recent years, the relationship was rocky.

Several years before the agency lost the business, it was put on notice and just managed to hang on. Given poor relations with VW dealers and management, the business was not secure. When DDB Needham closed its Detroit office, which serviced VW and other accounts, VW of America soon shifted to the Berlin spinoff.

HARD-FOUGHT WIN IN GERMANY

Last December, DDB Needham's VW business in Germany went into review; the agency was able to retain it in a hard-fought battle that saw DDB Needham totally remake its German office.

The pitch to win that account has led to the current effort to snatch back lost pieces of business, said one executive familiar with the new push.

That executive said VW saw opportunities to use DDB Needham's strategy and integrated marketing efforts in areas outside Germany, as the automaker looks to do more of a globally integrated marketing program.

The agency could have a tough time edging out Arnold, whose "Drivers wanted" ad campaign helped sales increase 55% to 134,912 in 1996.

Clive Warrilow, president-CEO of Volkswagen of America, was a key member of the panel that selected Arnold as the U.S. agency, as was Steve Wilhite, now VW's core process leader in charge of sales and marketing.

Mr. Wilhite was national sales manager when the decision was made to fire Berlin Cameron Doyle-the final name of the DDB Needham spinoff agency.

Mr. Wilhite said last year the Arnold campaign was enormously popular with dealers-99% were very positive and 97% said the ads fit with VW's brand character.

One executive said that because of this, and some lingering anti-DDB Needham feelings among dealers, the agency's designs on the U.S. business face tough odds.

Contributing: Jean Halliday

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