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Y&R Advertising was jolted last week by the news that its Detroit office's largest client, Lincoln-Mercury, is being relocated to Irvine, Calif.

John Vanderzee, chairman of the Y&R office, said he got the news only 48 hours before; none of his contacts at Ford Motor Co., where he worked for 31 years, leaked an early word to him.

"It was the best-kept secret in Detroit," said Jim O'Connor, general manager of Ford's Lincoln-Mercury Division.

Employees at both Lincoln-Mercury and the agency were informed of the move simultaneously with the public announcement Jan. 22.


Y&R will remain the division's agency and relocate to the Irvine area, said Robert Rewey, corporate group VP-marketing, sales and service at Ford.

Mr. Vanderzee said late last week he planned to huddle over the weekend with his top lieutenants to figure out how and when the shop would move westward.

Y&R handles the division's $275 million national account, and also has about $250 million in regional dealer accounts. It services the dealer accounts out of 14 small service outposts, including one in Los Angeles with about six people, Mr. Vanderzee said.

About 350 of the Detroit office's 400 employees work on Lincoln-Mercury and the dealer accounts.

The news caught Lincoln-Mercury off-guard as well.

Ian Beavis, the Lincoln-Mercury marketing communications manager who relocated last summer to Detroit from Saatchi & Saatchi Pacific, Torrance, Calif., started a renovation of his new house about two weeks ago, said an executive close to Y&R. Mr. Beavis could not be reached by press time.

Also, a brand manager at Lincoln-Mercury is said to have closed on a new house Jan. 21, less than 12 hours before getting the news.

Mr. Rewey said the move was conceived and planned in about four months.


Both Lincoln-Mercury and Y&R are tenants of Detroit's Renaissance Center, purchased by General Motors Corp. as its new headquarters last year. Lincoln-Mercury's lease expires at yearend, when it expects to be fully operational in Irvine, where Ford already owns property.

Y&R's current lease runs until the end of 1999. Executives said it will keep a Detroit presence to service other clients, including Visteon, Ford's auto parts' subsidiary; Michigan National Bank; and Michigan Consolidated Gas.

The non-Lincoln-Mercury accounts total only about $25 million in billings, which nervous agency staffers are speculating wouldn't justify keeping the office open. Some agency people are saying the agency will shutter the Detroit office and relocate only about 25% of the staff to California.

On the Ford side, about 120 to 150 people, including executives and marketing staff, will start moving to Irvine at mid-year. Mr. Rewey said he expects most of Lincoln-Mercury's employees to make the move. But if they don't want to go, they'll be offered another position at Ford.


"I have the feeling a good, sizable number of people working for Lincoln-Mercury and its agency are not going to want to move to California because they believe the center of the auto universe is Detroit," said auto consultant Art Spinella, VP of CNW Marketing/Research.

He described Lincoln-Mercury's move as the "most significant change in the Detroit auto industry's attitude since Chrysler bought American Motors Corp." in 1983. With that action, Chrysler demonstrated it was willing "to break the mold" of its stodgy image and become aggressive, he explained.

If Lincoln-Mercury's move to the West Coast translates to the success of the two marques, other Detroit auto brands also might relocate, he predicted.

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