The winner will have to work for it, however, for Mazda is unlikely simply to hand off the business to a Ford shop, according to executives close to the situation.
Foote, Cone & Belding resigned the account hours after parent True North Communications agreed to buy Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhardt. Its Bozell Worldwide is an agency for Chrylser Corp.
FCB ADS GO FORWARD
Mazda said in a statement that "FCB and Mazda will continue to work together on developing plans to relaunch the Mazda brand in North America," including an ad campaign for the redesigned 626 sedan and a pickup that go on sale in October.
J. Brendan Ryan, FCB's chairman-CEO, said Mazda intends to stage a formal review, though a Mazda spokesman said no decision has been made.
Ford owns 33.4% of Mazda and controls management, and the decision about advertising is expected to be left to Richard Beattie, president-CEO of Mazda North America Operations and the Ford executive sent in last February to reorganize the troubled automaker's North American operation.
"This is Mazda's game and Richard Beattie is the man," said a car executive close to the situation. "It's his choice as to what he wants to do . . . It's by no means a lay down" for any agency.
WPP SHOPS EYED
Agency watchers have for several years been betting Mazda would steer to a Ford roster shop. O&M, whose New York office handles Ford-owned Jaguar Cars, is mentioned most often as a likely winner.
Mr. Beattie worked with O&M earlier this decade when he was Jaguar's VP-sales and marketing.
Another Ford agency, J. Walter Thompson USA, is seen as a less likely choice since it handles Ford Division, a direct rival to Mazda. JWT has picked up Mazda in a number of European countries.
Both O&M and JWT are WPP Group shops.
Mazda, meanwhile, is counting on FCB's fall campaign to drive a successful relaunch of 626, its top-seller but a car facing intense competition this fall from Honda's redesigned Accord and the hot- selling Toyota Camry.
FCB, San Francisco, has been working on a campaign with the theme, "Technically speaking, a better car."
FCB's resignation signals the end of a 27-year relationship, the longest existing tie between an import car and U.S. ad agency.
FCB barely avoided a review two years ago by creating a campaign, "Passion for the road," to revive sales. But sales continued to slump, falling 9.7% in the first six months of this year compared to a depressed 1996.
FCB earlier this year shifted creative to San Francisco from the Santa Ana, Calif., office dedicated to Mazda. With the resignation, FCB will close Santa Ana.