WPP SEEKS CHANCES FOR MAZDA AD WORK JWT MAY HAVE SHOT IN GERMANY; STAKES WORLDWIDE TOTAL $600 MIL

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J. Walter Thompson Co. is angling for Mazda business in Europe, with signs the agency may land the carmaker's German account within months.

A win in Germany could be the first step in ambitious goals by WPP Group agencies to win over time much of the Japanese automaker's scattered $600 million in advertising worldwide.

Since Ford Motor Co. deployed one of its executives earlier this year to rescue Ford-backed Mazda, WPP has been hoping business could come the way of WPP's global Ford agencies, JWT and Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide.

JWT*FREE IN EUROPE

JWT is eyeing Mazda in Europe, where O&M handles Ford in many countries. O&M is free to go after Mazda in other markets, including the U.S., where JWT handles the Ford Division, a direct Mazda competitor, and O&M manages Ford-owned Jaguar Cars, not a conflict with Mazda.

There are major roadblocks, however. Japanese auto companies market abroad through independent-minded distributors, and accounts usually move only through local pitches, not mandates from headquarters.

Also, Mazda has just consolidated its $140 million account in Japan with Hakuhodo, Tokyo, and has a long-standing relationship with Foote, Cone & Belding, Santa Ana, Calif., which handles the $330 million U.S. account.

A Mazda spokesman in Japan said: "At this moment, we don't have any plans to take drastic action. Overseas, we haven't made any decision. For example, in the U.S. we're using FCB and don't have any plans to change. The Japanese domestic market is the first test."

Hakuhodo's campaign broke in newspapers at the end of August (AA, Sept. 2).

PASSION FOR THE ROAD

FCB narrowly avoided a U.S. review a year ago with the "Passion for the road" campaign that it promised would turn around slumping sales. Mazda's sales have remained weak, but the marque in August posted the first monthly increase in 1996 over year-ago sales.

"It's been a very difficult year," said Jay Amestoy, VP at Mazda Motor of America. "But this is another sign that we're starting to make the turnaround that we need to make for the long haul."

KEEPING A CLOSE WATCH

O&M U.S. executives are watching Mazda closely. But one is backpedaling on a previous prediction the agency would win Mazda in the U.S.

"I don't think anything is imminent," the executive said. "I will fall out of my chair if anything happens in the near future."

O&M isn't expected to push hard for Mazda work, instead taking direction from Ford. And adWPP shops eye Mazda vertising doesn't appear that high at the moment on Ford's priority list for Mazda.

Europe may be most ripe for change. Industry executives there and in the U.S. say the first agency move likely will be Mazda's switch of its German account to JWT, with one executive saying the change will occur by yearend.

JWT's new European business director, Ron Vorstenbosch, said he's heard rumors but denied he's working on it.

Mazda moved its $36 million German account (more than half of Mazda's total European budget of about $65 million) last year to Rempen & Partner, a 2-year-old Duesseldorf agency that is part of Havas' Campus network.

Mazda owns 100% of its German distributor, making it easier to promote an agency change.

However, agency executives with Japanese car accounts say Japanese automakers prefer to award business country-by-country following local pitches rather than through alignment.

"It takes time. You can't get there overnight," said Joe Cronin, president-CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi/Pacific, Torrance, Calif., and worldwide account director on the agency's $750 million Toyota account.

From its 1975 win in the U.S., Saatchi has attained the business of the world's No. 3 automaker in 21 global markets.

Contributing: Mark Gleason, Jean Halliday, Dagmar Mussey and Alice Z. Cuneo.

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