According to executives close to the situation who asked not to be named, the turning point in WPP Group-owned J. Walter Thompson Co.'s 15-year relationship with Goodyear came last month, when a trio of top execs from JWT had its first meeting with Robert Keegan, president-chief operating officer of Goodyear since last October.
The meeting was a courtesy to Mr. Keegan, who hadn't seen the proposed JWT campaign that had been developed at the request and with the blessings of his underlings. But at the meeting, the agency's brass-President Peter Schweitzer, CEO Chris Jones and Exec VP Steve Brown, shot down their own campaign, citing research showing it would perform poorly for the tire brand.
JWT's faux pas, the execs said, was that it insulted Goodyear's marketing team in front of their new boss. The Goodyear team at the meeting included Jim Vogel, VP-sales and marketing since July; John Montgomery, director of marketing services; and Dave Lenox, advertising director. The latter two have been in their current jobs for about four months.
Mr. Keegan, the execs familiar with the situation reported, was said to have agreed with the agency chieftains. That further embarrassed his own marketing team as well as JWT's Goodyear team and ultimately led to the review being called.
Mr. Keegan was traveling last week and unavailable for comment.
JWT, which will try to defend the business, wouldn't comment on the meeting. "We're very proud of the work and marketing initiatives we`ve done for them," said Mr. Brown, who said he is disappointed that the account is in review. Mr. Jones, who last week left JWT for unrelated health reasons, could not be reached at press time for comment about the Goodyear situation. Mr. Schweitzer, who will succeed him, was unavailable for comment.
Goodyear's Mr. Montgomery, speaking on behalf of the Goodyear group, declined to discuss details of the meeting, but said it had no impact on the decision to put the business up for review. He cited the new North American management team that includes John Polhemus, president for the region, as the reason for the review. "We're looking for some aggressive, new creative for the brand," Mr. Montgomery said. The Firestone recall that started last August "creates consumer awareness about tires and brands," he added. "We want to reinforce the message behind Goodyear and get a fresh perspective."
Goodyear invited a list of about a dozen shops, compiled by Mr. Lenox with the help of an undisclosed third party, said Mr. Montgomery. Among the criteria used was an agency's new-account win record.
He declined to name the shops targeted. But they are said to include Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, New York, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, GSD&M, Austin, Texas, and TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif.; and Publicis Groupe's Fallon, Minneapolis. Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, which handles Goodyear outside North America, is also said to be pursuing the account.
JWT, Detroit, won Goodyear's performance and motorsports' account in late 1985. JWT, New York, also won the Goodyear brands that year but lost the North American portion in 1988 to Y&R Advertising, New York (although it retained the motorsports business). JWT, Detroit, won the branding account back in 1989.
JWT created the 1997 "Serious Freedom" campaign for Goodyear's brand and tires, which is still used.
In October, Goodyear reported a net loss of $6.6 million on its worldwide business in the third quarter of 2000. But it posted $116.7 million in net income for the first three quarters of the year. Sales for the nine-month period rose to $3.5 billion vs. $3.3 billion for the same period of 1999.
Sam Gibara, chairman-CEO, cited high raw material and energy costs for the third-quarter results. But he also said the Firestone recall generated a sales pace for Goodyear replacement tires that was four times the industry average in September. "Our objective is for these consumers to remain Goodyear customers," he said.