This is the latest sign that JWT owner WPP Group is staking positions to take control of much of Mazda's $600 million global account. Mazda already has confirmed talks with JWT about its European business (AA, Sept. 23).
FCB ON THE HOT SEAT
Mazda Motor of America's $240 million account is now at Foote, Cone & Belding, Santa Ana, Calif. But FCB, Mazda's agency since 1970, has been on the hot seat. Mazda threatened to fire the shop last year, and FCB saved it with the current "Passion for the Road" campaign.
Just last month, FCB's Dave Weber, 41, quit as senior VP-group management supervisor on Mazda to run the Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America account at Grey Advertising's G2 unit in Santa Ana. Mr. Weber denied he left because the Mazda account was in trouble.
Greg Sieck, formerly senior VP-management supervisor, moves up to group management director, succeeding Mr. Weber.
Welton Mansfield, FCB exec VP-managing director, said the Mazda relationship is "doing pretty well."
"I expect the Mazda business to continue with FCB," he said.
JWT's involvement comes as Ford moves decisively to put its stamp on Mazda's marketing, product and dealer fronts. Ford raised its stake in Mazda Motor Corp. in May to 33.5%, giving it control under Japanese law.
A POSSIBLE CONFLICT
JWT likely would have a conflict in creating Mazda's U.S. advertising because it handles the Ford Division, a direct competitor. But sister shop Ogilvy & Mather could have a strong shot.
Ford turned to longtime agency JWT to study Jaguar after buying the British carmaker in 1989, and the account then moved to O&M, New York, from now-defunct Geer, Dubois.
Jaguar and Mazda aren't seen as a conflict.
Earlier this year, O&M on its own hired a third-party market analysis company to study Mazda's U.S. business, but the agency tabled that project while waiting to see what direction Ford took, according to executives.
Ford Division Ad Manager Gerry Donnelly declined to comment on whether Ford had asked JWT to study Mazda's U.S. operation or on whether it would be a conflict for the agency to create ads for both his division and Mazda.
But one person close to Ford said the study is "a think tank on Mazda marketing issues" for Robert Rewey, Ford group VP-marketing and sales.
The JWT study is believed to be a broad review of sales, marketing and ad strategies to see how Mazda fits in with Ford's brand management system.
INTEGRATING WITH FORD
"We're seeing a huge integration with Ford in products, marketing and the future direction of Mazda," said George McCabe, Mazda's U.S. senior VP.
Mr. McCabe admitted Mazda's equity and buyer loyalty are "not very strong," but added: "This com-pany's uniqueness and potential for strategic positioning is very sep-arate from Ford, and they've realized that it must be managed that way."
Fred Ehlers, Mazda's U.S. VP-sales and marketing, denied Mazda has talked to anyone at JWT or O&M.
Mazda insiders say Ford marketing executives met with Mazda's staff two weeks ago and shredded Mazda's current marketing effort.
Mark Rechtin is a reporter with Automotive News. Contributing: Alice Z. Cuneo, Jean Halliday and Laura Petrecca.