It was no surprise that Goldberg Moser O'Neill resigned Dell Computer Corp. But the winner could be a surprise: Ammirati Puris Lintas emerged from a meeting last week confident it was close to locking up the $70 million to $90 million business, while Temerlin McClain pressed ahead with its pitch.
The biggest surprise, however, is that Dell brand shop BBDO Worldwide opted out of the review.
Close watchers in media and agency circles figured BBDO was the lead candidate since the New York shop snared Dell's estimated $100 million branding account in September. BBDO insiders for months have expressed hope they would have a crack at the Goldberg business--the Home & Small Business division.
But executives close to BBDO said the agency wouldn't pitch, with one of them saying the assignment--turning out a high volume of product-and-price ads to generate orders over the phone and Web--wasn't a good match for brand-oriented BBDO.
Goldberg produced about 130 Dell ads a month.
BBDO's Dell relationship also took a big hit last week with the resignation of Exec VP John Berg, who ran the account while BBDO has been searching for an account person with tech experience. Mr. Berg had close ties to Scott Helbing, Dell's VP-corporate branding, from their work on Pizza Hut.
Goldberg, San Francisco, ended weeks of speculation when it resigned the product account last week, with more than half its Dell billings up for grabs. In splitting with Dell after 11 years, Chairman-CEO Fred Goldberg said the agency intended to focus on building a creative-driven shop.
Though some tech ad insiders criticize BBDO's Dell work as bland, observers say Dell is pleased with the work.
"I think the [brand] ads they're running now are some of the best of [their] kind," said former Philip Morris Cos. Chairman Michael Miles, a Dell board member who has consulted with Mr. Helbing on Dell's advertising. "I'm very content with what they're doing."
GOLDBERG QUIT 9 DELL UNITS
Although Goldberg resigned work on nine Dell divisions, the company said it's proceeding with the Home & Small Business division review alone.
A spokesman said Dell hadn't determined how to handle other divisions.
One close observer speculated it will hand off the other divisions to BBDO and the new shop selected for home/small-business.
A Dell spokeswoman said Dell doesn't have a deadline for the current review.
"When we see the pitch that's right, we'll make the decision," she said.
One observer said Dell likely would pick an agency by mid-May. But things could move faster.
Ammirati executives came out of an April 7 meeting with Dell believing they had won the business, according to one person close to the agency. A spokesman for the New York agency declined to comment.
Messrs. Berg and Helbing declined to comment about Dell, as did executives with Irving, Texas-based Temerlin McClain.
A BBDO spokesman had no comment by press time. Review consultant Peter Mitchell of Mitchell Co., Dallas, also declined to comment.
AMMIRATI HANDLED DELL RIVAL
Ammirati is the former agency for Dell's longtime nemesis, Compaq Computer Corp. It also brings a global network.
Temerlin has experience in technology with Nortel Networks. Most relevant, however, could be its work with American Airlines. American, like Dell, is constantly tweaking price and promotion ads that must reach both consumers and business users.
Temerlin might get a boardroom endorsement as well. AMR Corp. and American Airlines Chairman-CEO Donald Carty is a Dell board member. The shop could offer Dell access to the global networks of parent True North Communications' Bozell Worldwide or Foote, Cone & Belding.
Contributing: Alice Z. Cuneo, Laura Petrecca.
Copyright April 1999, Crain Communications Inc.