Ford looks to rejigger $1 bil media business

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Troubled Ford Motor Co. is considering following rival General Motors Corp. in bundling its $1 billion-plus in North American media buying and planning housed at WPP Group agencies.

Ford's Darryl Hazel, VP-marketing in North America for Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands, told Advertising Age bundling media "has a certain inherent appeal" and has been discussed. He said a decision about how WPP will handle its media could come as soon as the end of the year.

And while spending plans for 2006 are also being finalized, no one's betting on a boost. Mr. Hazel's expectation: flat.

The marketer, which posted a pre-tax loss of $2.1 billion for its North American operations in the second and third quarters, is in the midst of a broad cost-cutting effort. Details of a restructuring plan are due next month from Chairman William Clay Ford Jr.

"We are looking at everything. There are different scenarios we are going to prepare" to present to the marketer for media, said Jack Valente, managing director of WPP's MediaEdge:cia. The agency handles national and regional dealer group planning and spot TV buys for Lincoln, Mercury, Ford corporate and the Customer Service Division as well as buys for Lincoln Mercury regional dealer ad groups. Y&R and Wunderman handle national and regional creative plus online advertising for Lincoln and Mercury.

Sibling JWT Detroit's Ford Motor Media unit, formed in 1997, buys national TV and most other national media for all the automaker's brands, including Volvo, Land Rover, Jaguar and Mazda.

The two sides are studying the matter as WPP prepares to co-locate its Ford agencies next year to a Ford-owned building in Dearborn near the automaker's headquarters. That will result in the consolidation of back-office departments like human resources, finance and production.

Ford Motor spent $1.12 billion in U.S. measured media, including online, through September vs. $1.09 billion for the same period a year ago, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

More dollars for digital

Ford will continue to allocate more dollars to digital ad spending. The marketer increased online ad spending in the first nine months of 2005 to $43.5 million from a year ago, according to TNS. Ford cut spending in broadcast TV by $28 million to $325 million in the 2005 period compared to a year ago. In the same period, it increased cable TV spending by $47 million to $121 million.

Ford has also turned to WPP for solutions as to how its agencies handle online accounts. Mr. Hazel said the automaker is seeking "a common underlying architecture" that would eliminate redundancies while still keeping the brands separate.

JWT handles Ford brand's online account, while Wunderman has Lincoln, Mercury and Land Rover. Wunderman and Y&R already are joined in the U.S. for Ford. Abroad, the two shops are called the Blue Team on Ford, and have recently ramped up shared services, said Alexei Orlov, president-chief operating officer of Ford Automotive Worldwide at Wunderman. He was in Australia in November where discussions were held to form a Blue Team similar to Europe's. The message, he said, is saving time: "Common thought, common sharing, and being proactive to the issues affecting our clients."

Contributing: Lisa Sanders

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