Toyota said to have approached agency

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Toyota Motor Sales USA, the subject of review talk for several months, is said to have approached at least one ad agency about unspecified work.

Executives at Toyota and its Lexus division denied their accounts, or even any projects, are in play. Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, Torrance, Calif., handles Toyota; Saatchi's Team One, El Segundo, Calif., handles Lexus.

Toyota spent $561 million on U.S. advertising and Lexus spent $170 million in 2000, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.

"It's not the first time. These rumors keep floating around," said Mike Michels, national manager, media relations for Toyota. At Lexus, spokeswoman Holly Ferris said, "There is no other conversation with any other agency." Review speculation comes despite strong sales for Toyota and Lexus.

The client's denials, said Brian Sheehan, co-president and CEO, Team One, clearly demonstrate review speculation is unfounded. He said Saatchi and Team One are one to two months away from finalizing a contract with Toyota under revision since 1999.

Other executives in the business disagree. "There is real dissatisfaction," said one executive familiar with automotive marketing. "People believe [the account is] vulnerable." Last fall, Dentsu was reported to be looking for a piece of U.S. Toyota business for its Bcom3 Group shop N.W. Ayer & Partners. (AA, Oct. 23). "We are absolutely not on the verge of getting any Toyota business in North America," Don Effler, vice

chairman, Dentsu Holdings USA, said last week. "There is no review, no pitch, and we are not pitching under the radar."

Dentsu works with Toyota in Japan; a Dentsu shop has Lexus and trucks in Canada, while another works with Toyota in Brussels. Because of conflicts, only a few global networks, including Grey Global Group and True North Communications' FCB Worldwide, could take on Toyota work. An FCB spokesman referred calls to Toyota. Also eligible to handle some, if not all of the account, would be a bevy of independents ranging from Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., to Ground Zero, Marina del Rey, Calif.

Contributing: Laura Q. Hughes and Laurel Wentz

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