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J. Walter Thompson Co. this month will launch a North American division aimed at wooing retail accounts for its 33 offices in the U.S. and Canada.

Based in Detroit, the new JWT Retail Group will seek to increase retail billings from $650 million to $1 billion by the year 2000, said Chris Grindem, the senior partner tapped as the new division's director.

JWT CEO Chris Jones has been shaking up things at the global shop since assuming his post in January 1997, and has said he's on a mission to make striking changes by the year 2000. The agency has been under pressure from parent WPP Group to trim costs and boost operating margins (AA, Nov. 3).

Many retailers don't think of JWT when they have a review, said Steve Brown, exec VP-general manager of the Detroit office overseeing non-auto accounts. The new unit "is a way to overcome the image of JWT as a large, package-goods, multinational agency with multinational clients," he said.

Informational brochures will be sent out to about 100 retailers this month, including Tandy Corp., whose RadioShack unit recently dropped Lord Group, Fort Worth, Texas, which had handled the retailer's in-store Sprint Stores. JWT's San Francisco office handles Tandy. The Detroit office produced a video for a follow-up mailing.


JWT's Detroit office has won five retail accounts since `94, including Kohl's Department Stores, worth about $20 million in billings, and Domino's Pizza, a $30 million account. The office has handled regional dealer groups for Ford Motor Co.'s Ford Division since 1944 and now has the bulk of that business.

"Through this experience, we've developed a proprietary approach to servicing retail accounts that, combined with our media clout, now makes us a formidable competitor to traditional retail advertising agencies," said Peter Schweitzer, the Detroit-based president of JWT. "This is a natural outgrowth of our brand and retail advertising heritage with Ford dealers and our recent retail account gains."

Last fall, the office announced the formation of the Communications Group, which united planning for media, database, direct marketing, event marketing and interactive (AA, Sept. 15).


Mr. Grindem said that unit's so-called t3 tool -- Thompson Total Targeting, which integrates a client's database with information JWT owns to improve strategic planning -- helps define a retailer's market from the bottom up, store by store. He said t3 has provided improved reach to loyal customers and found new prospects more cost-effectively than before.

Other JWT offices have developed similar core competencies.

The Chicago office was JWT's first branded resource when J. Walter Treehouse was formed three years ago with expertise in targeting moms and kids. Last summer, the Los Angeles office formed JWT Entertainment to amplify service to entertainment clients at four offices.

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