While the list of invitees to the global review remains fluid, the early group includes 51-year incumbent BBDO South, Atlanta; ousted United agency Leo Burnett Co., Chicago; and New York agencies J. Walter Thompson Co., Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, Bates Worldwide, Ammirati Puris Lintas and Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG.
WIEDEN, RINEY ON LIST
It also includes smaller creative agencies Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., and Hal Riney & Partners, San Francisco. Beyond its core office, Wieden has an office in Amsterdam; is expanding its New York office beyond media; and has operated an office in Tokyo for a year in an alliance with McCann-Erickson Worldwide, primarily to handle Nike. Riney has no international offices or alliances.
"We're looking for the best possible agency," said a Delta spokeswoman. "If that means two, we'll consider it."
A short list of agencies, including BBDO, will be given an assignment to develop a campaign for a new international business class being introduced next spring. A decision on the review is expected by late February.
Delta's international agency, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, London, will participate as part of the BBDO pitch as will parent BBDO Worldwide, New York.
"This is an evolution to a new global image," said Gayle Bock, Delta's VP-consumer marketing. The former United executive put the account in review just four weeks after joining Delta.
Delta is moving to stay competitive with carriers like British Airways and United. The latter in October dumped 31-year incumbent Burnett in favor of a split between Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis, and Young & Rubicam, New York.
The battle for business travelers is particularly fierce. That marketDelta's $100 mil review represents $65.5 billion annually for airlines, according to American Express Consulting Services.
In addition to the new business class, Delta will introduce next year a refashioned first class.
Domestically, discount service Delta Express, introduced in October, also will get ad support beyond TV spots in the local markets it serves. It is unclear how much of the country Delta Express will eventually serve or how far its advertising will reach.
RETHINKING ADS IS CRUCIAL
Bruce Onsager, partner at consultancy Cambridge Group, said: "The airline industry has become so competitive, for any airline to survive in the future they must fundamentally rethink their strategy. As a result, they need to get dramatically beyond cost cutting to increase the bottom line, and that includes rethinking advertising."
Echoing Burnett's battle cry at the start of the United review, BBDO executives said they'll go to the wall to keep Delta.
"We're going to win," said Tom Carey, president-North America. "This review will give us the ability to reaffirm the quality of our creative resources, in Atlanta and throughout our system."
BBDO Vice Chairman Philip Dusenberry said the review was "unexpected," but acknowledged that in the past year and a half he had checked out repeated rumors of account reviews, "which were always vigorously denied."
Last year, Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising held some quiet conversations with Delta after losing the British Airways account. Saatchi was not on Delta's list last week, but that could still change.
TRYING TO BE INDEPENDENT
Historically, BBDO South has operated as autonomously as possible, with management in Atlanta trying to keep its distance from the high-profile New York office.
But New York executives including Mr. Dusenberry have periodically had to get involved on Delta, sometimes at the request of airline Chairman-CEO Ronald Allen.
That happened last summer, when Mr. Dusenberry and others helped finish the widely panned "Delta Marathon" campaign, on which the carrier spent $20 million during the 17-day Summer Olympics, held in its hometown of Atlanta.
NEW YORK'S ACTIVE ROLE
Messrs. Carey and Dusenberry said they and other BBDO executives in New York will take an active role in the review, though Mr. Dusenberry denied reports the New York office will take the lead.
The critical person on the pitch likely will be Larry Tolpin, newly appointed president-CEO at BBDO South. Mr. Tolpin, whose background is in creative, moved into that job last month from BBDO Canada with the specific objective of improving work quality in Atlanta and on Delta in particular (AA, Nov. 11).
Mr. Carey said other personnel changes, including changes on the Delta account team, are "under review."
Contributing: Pat Sloan, Alice Z. Cuneo