Abby Kohnstamm, IBM's VP-corporate marketing, is looking at all aspects of the computer giant's advertising, promotion and branding, thus mounting the same methodical, ongoing study of communications that her boss, Chairman-CEO Louis V. Gerstner Jr., is doing with the corporation.
"Nothing is decided" regarding advertising and other marketing issues, an IBM spokeswoman said. "That's the whole purpose of taking a look at how you do things .*.*. At the same time, we're seriously looking at everything we're doing."
The spokeswoman stressed IBM isn't reviewing agencies.
But there's no status quo at IBM. Lintas, working on products, and Wells Rich Greene BDDP, focusing on corporate ads, have been the primary agencies on IBM's estimated $175 million to $200 million worldwide account since 1988. But given the marketer's abysmal financial performance-IBM has lost money the past three years-an agency review at some point would hardly be surprising.
This week, Ms. Kohnstamm will meet with executives from Lintas, New York, IBM's lead product ad agency. The IBM spokeswoman said Lintas is being asked to talk about product advertising, but there was strong speculation last week that Lintas would use the audience to pitch ideas for corporate advertising.
Lintas' own position isn't necessarily that secure. While still IBM's main product agency, it lost IBM's high-profile personal computer division last fall to upstart Merkley Newman Harty and DDB Needham, Paris. And competitors privately are critical of Lintas' work, though the agency does have champions inside IBM.
The IBM spokeswoman said Lintas would be acting on its own if it presents corporate ideas.
"I can't deny the speculation except to say the intent is not for them to pitch" corporate advertising, the spokeswoman said. "You can't stop somebody from just generally talking about their ideas."
The spokeswoman stressed IBM isn't reviewing agencies, and WRG President David Sklaver said he had been assured his agency isn't in danger of losing the account.
"There's absolutely no review at all," Mr. Sklaver said. "The plan is Lintas is supposed to come to her [Ms. Kohnstamm] with product advertising ... They may show corporate stuff. [If they do] it's a very aggressive move on their part; I'm not sure it's a welcome move."
Executives at Lintas weren't available for comment at press time.
Ms. Kohnstamm has already made one major move, consolidating worldwide oversight of IBM advertising at corporate headquarters under Clare Thain, who had been with IBM's U.S. division and now is director of advertising and promotion. Reporting to Mr. Thain are two IBM veterans-Lauren Flaherty, now director of image advertising, and Maureen McGuire, now director of product advertising-and a newcomer, Marianne Caponnetto, now IBM director of media and formerly director of corporate marketing at Dow Jones & Co.
There are also staffing changes at WRG. Jonathan Brody, formerly head of client services at Anderson & Lembke, New York, joins the agency today as one of two management supervisors on IBM, succeeding Mary Moran, a veteran on the account who left two months ago.
Gary Levin and Melanie Wells contributed to this story.