SAATCHI WILL HIT THE AIR RUNNING WITH DELTA ADS: LIEBER DIRECT SHOP INVOLVED IN PITCH, ASSIGNMENT

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Playing catch-up with trans-Atlantic business class competitors, Delta Air Lines will break an estimated $40 million campaign focused on its upcoming business-class improvements by May.

That puts the pressure on Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, New York, named last week to the carrier's $100 million global ad account, ending Delta's 51-year relationship with BBDO Worldwide.

`UNDER THE GUN'

"We're under the gun to get advertising out in the next few months," said a Delta spokeswoman, when the first phase of the carrier's improved business class will be complete.

Saatchi & Saatchi won out over Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide and Ammirati Puris Lintas. BBDO dropped out earlier, claiming a non-objective review.

Saatchi is working with direct-marketing agency Lieber, Levett, Koenig, Farese, Babcock, New York, invited to participate by Saatchi Chairman-CEO Ed Wax.

"We had our first conversations with Saatchi in December," said CEO Bob Lieber. "They needed a partner for relationship-marketing efforts in this pitch."

Mr. Lieber said Gayle Bock, Delta's VP-consumer marketing, "has a passion for relationship marketing . . . It's a major agenda for Delta right now."

Ms. Bock, previously at United Airlines, built its frequent-flier program database.

Delta President-CEO Ronald Allen, claiming responsibility for the review, said he was "shocked" when BBDO relinquished its bid.

"They were treated like every other agency along the way," he said. "They had the inside track."

ON LOOKOUT FOR AIRLINE ACC'T

Saatchi has been on the lookout for an airline account since losing British Airways to M&C Saatchi, when in 1995 brothers Maurice and Charles Saatchi snatched the client from their old agency.

Robert Coggin, Delta exec VP-marketing said the presentation by Saatchi is what won the business.

"One of the things we noticed was how well-coordinated the team was during the presentation," he said. "The fact that they've had [an] extensive airline background prob-ably helped them prepare. That experience probably helped them understand the business better than others."

"The team we assembled all pretty much had airline experience," said Mr. Wax.

Executives from both Delta and Saatchi said the focus of Saatchi's pitch was creative and strategy, not the agency's experience.

Saatchi is planning to open an agency in Atlanta to service the retail side of the account; the London office will play a large role in servicing the business.

"We had initial discussions with Ed and his team to have account responsibility in Atlanta," said Ms. Bock.

Contributing: Jane Hodges

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