MARCH ROARS LIKE A LION FOR GOODBY: AGENCY CAPTURES DISCOVER, E*TRADE, SONICARE TO TOP $500 MIL IN BILLINGS

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Goodby, Silverstein & Partners marched through March with its biggest winning streak ever, piling up more than $150 million in new billings.

The wins bring the agency's total billings well over the $500 million mark for the first time.

Following a four-month review that included Leo Burnett USA, Chicago; Lowe & Partners, New York; and the Martin Agency, Richmond, Va., Goodby was awarded the estimated $80 million Discover Financial Services credit card account.

The previous week, the San Francisco shop picked up the estimated $50 million to $60 million E*Trade account. And late last week, Goodby won Optiva Corp.'s Sonicare electric toothbrush, with spending anticipated to rise to as much as $15 million this year, up from the $12.6 million spent on measured media in 1998, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

'A BIG OPPORTUNITY'

The Discover win, one of the biggest accounts the agency has ever landed, "is a big opportunity for us," said Jeff Goodby, principal and creative director.

The decision to put Discover in review was made by a new management team eager to build the brand. DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago, had handled the account for almost a dozen years.

Lagging behind Visa USA, MasterCard International and American Express Co., Discover suffered a decline in share of charge volume in 1997, according to Credit Card News. Its presence slipped to 6.3%, from 6.7% the previous year.

In 1998, parent Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. hired David W. Nelms as Discover's CEO, bringing him over from MBNA America Bank, a major credit card issuer. Since then, the marketer's initiatives have included new co-branding alliances, an expansion of its merchant network, introduction of new products and a new positioning as the credit card of the next millennium.

Cathy Davis was hired to serve as VP-marketing, from account director on the Amoco account at Burnett, and the account went into review the next month.

LAST PIECE OF PUZZLE

Discover hopes advertising from Goodby will be the last piece of the marketing puzzle needed to reverse its fortunes.

"We are confident that Goodby will provide a new perspective and fresh approach that will help Discover Card reposition itself for the future," Ms. Davis said in a release.

Goodby executives were surprised by the win. Burnett, whose Starcom Media Services unit picked up media buying, was seen as a favorite for a number of reasons, including the fact Ms. Davis once worked for Burnett.

Part of the Goodby pitch, led by Creative Director Dave O'Hare, addressed the card's key challenge: How to give consumers a reason to use Discover, often the third card in the wallet, if that.

"Our job will be to find a role for it," Mr. Goodby said.

Some marketing executives said that moves under consideration include focusing on the simplicity of receiving cash back as a reward for using the card vs. a confusing array of rewards ranging from frequent-flier miles to discounts on specific products offered by competing cards.

Another tack might try to hop on the trend of upscale '90s consumers looking for better value for their dollar, such as by shopping at discounter Costco, which only accepts the Discover card.

As for E*Trade, picked up just days before the Discover decision, the pioneering online brokerage is fighting for share with such tough competitors as Charles Schwab & Co. and Morgan Stanley Dean Witter's own Discover Brokerage Direct.

Discover Brokerage is handled by Black Rocket, San Francisco, and some observers have noted the potential conflicts of Goodby working for Discover, albeit the card, while handling E*Trade.

"They dance around conflict better than most," said one West Coast agency executive, who pointed out that Goodby for a while had both Isuzu and Porsche as clients.

NO OBJECTIONS

Mr. Goodby said neither new client objected to the other on the roster.

Goodby's work for E*Trade is expected to break within a month.

Other agencies in the Sonicare review were TBWA/Chiat/Day, San Francisco, and Butler, Shine & Stern, Sausalito, Calif. Goldberg Moser O'Neill, San Francisco, previously handled.

The marketer is expected to extend the brand into toothpastes and other related

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