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Frustrated With Its Agencies, ConocoPhillips Keeps Trying Out Shops

Brand Manager Tells ANA Gathering That Marketer Is 'Not Overly Impressed' in Its Search

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PHOENIX (AdAge.com) -- Marketers have heard it all about the new digital world and the opportunities and challenges it presents. But many of those marketers attending last week's Association of National Advertisers conference said they were frustrated with their agencies' ability to help them figure out what to do next.

Matthew Selbie, brand manager, ConocoPhillips, went so far as to tell the 1,200 conference attendees in a video, presented by Yahoo, that he's taking action by changing agencies and the structure of his own marketing department.

Agencies not equipped
"Clearly, in quite a few of our existing agency relationships, I don't think many of the agencies we deal with are equipped with either the technologies or the people to help us in our quest to find customers and engage them," he said.

Mr. Selbie said he is trying a number of alternate shops on a "trial basis"; those shops include Freed Advertising and Fogarty Klein Monroe, both Houston-area creative agencies, and Slingshot, Dallas, which handles interactive. (According to an executive at one of the agencies, the marketer has split up its various brands, such as its Union 76 Service Stations, among the various shops.) Mr. Selbie added that he is not seeking an agency-of-record relationship.

ConocoPhillips worked with Los Angeles agency Dailey & Associates for almost five years before they parted about two years ago, when the marketer brought the account in-house. Spending was about $20 million at that time. According to TNS Media Intelligence, the gas company spent $18.7 million in measured media in 2006, and considerably less, $3.6 million, for the first half of this year.

In a subsequent interview with Advertising Age during the conference, Mr. Selbie said: "I am not overly impressed with the agencies we have tried so far."

'It is just complicated'
As a result, Mr. Selbie said ConocoPhillips is trying new agencies able to "understand our target segment and how to find the vehicles and channels to reach those segments in a cost-effective manner. It's a challenge for us and for agencies trying to comprehend what we are trying to do. It is not difficult. It is just complicated."

ConocoPhillips' new branding campaign, like those of competitors Chevron, BP and others, is trying to paint itself as a good citizen trying to protect the environment. In a spot tagged "Energy for Tomorrow," a grandfather goes fly-fishing with his grandson. Voice-overs tell the story of ConocoPhillips searching for alternative fuels so "we can pass on what matters to the ones who matter most."
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