ROUGH RIDE AHEAD FOR LUXURY CAR IMPORTS CURRENCY WOES SPARK SHOW BIZ, SPORTS TIES

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Another shakeout may be near for luxury car importers, which collectively changed ad agencies eight times when business declined in the late 1980s and early '90s.

Under pressure from the falling value of the dollar and lifestyle changes that favor sport-utility vehicles, marketers like BMW of North America are turning to new resources to deliver services that traditional agencies can't provide.

Word is spreading that agency search consultant Morgan, Anderson & Co., New York, is contacting shops for a European luxury car account. And that's fueling speculation of even bigger changes around the bend.

BMW has signed up Dick Clark Corporate Productions, Burbank, Calif., and New York, to bring a "Hollywood angle" to the early 1996 introduction of a new roadster. That car is slated to be featured in the James Bond movie, "Goldeneye," due out late this year from United Artists.

Also, BMW is expected to tap Advantage International, Atlanta, to coordinate promotions related to its being named last week as a 1996 Olympics sponsor.

At the same time, industry insiders say BMW is close to ending its relationship with ad agency Mullen, Wenham, Mass., which has handled creative on the estimated $80 million account.

Being touted as a likely successor is former Porsche Cars North America agency Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis. Come April 3, Fallon officially teams up with New York agency Berlin Cameron Doyle to form Fallon McElligott Berlin.

Berlin's client, Volkswagen of America, is expected to wrap up its review to pick a successor by then. One factor in the scenario is that ex-Porsche executive Jim McDowell, now VP-marketing at BMW, is said to admire Fallon.

BMW declined to comment on the agency speculation, though a spokesman said the company is "happy" with Mullen's new TV advertising, expected to air soon.

Agency President-CEO James Mullen said indications were his agency's relationship with BMW was "just fine" and that any change would be a "stunner."

Fallon Partner-Group Director Fred Senn said his shop has talked to several automakers but didn't identify them.

One car in search of an agency is the sport-utility vehicle that Mercedes-Benz of North America will begin marketing in 1997. Mercedes has given its agency, Lowe & Partners/SMS, New York, the go-ahead to form a task force to work on the project, but hasn't finalized a decision on the assignment. Rapp Collins Worldwide was named late last year to handle direct marketing.

Mercedes and Lowe executives have denied rumors of a rocky relationship. Agency Vice Chairman Marvin Sloves suggested the talk began because of the pending sport-utility assignment and Mercedes' talks with Los Angeles talent agency International Creative Management. Mercedes earlier this month picked ICM to work on image-building projects outside of traditional advertising.

Both Mercedes and BMW say their new marketing partners won't create advertising, the way Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Creative Artists Agency took creative control of Coca-Cola Classic from New York agency McCann-Erickson Worldwide.M

Contributing to this story: Pat Sloan, Alice Z. Cuneo and Iris Cohen Selinger.

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