Ford Tells WPP to Stay Away From Chrysler's Review

Forces Agency Holding Company to Withdraw Grey From Contention

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DETROIT ( -- Ford Motor Co. has taken WPP to the woodshed, forcing the London-based holding company to withdraw one of its agencies, Grey, from Chrysler Group's search for new creative ideas for its fourth-quarter advertising.

Grey, which Advertising Age this month reported was among a group of shops Chrysler tapped as part of its fast-moving search, was set to pitch Sept. 22 at the automaker's global headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., before Ford's smackdown late last week, executives close to the situation said.

That Ford is putting its foot down and barring WPP from pitching a rival automaker's account isn't a surprise, especially when you consider its history with the holding company and its comparative position to Chrysler.

Ford spent $1.9 billion in 2008 on U.S. advertising and ranks as the 11th largest national advertiser, according to Advertising Age's DataCenter. It also was alone among Detroit automakers in maneauvering through the industry's stunning downturn in 2008 and 2009 without taking a U.S. taxpayer bailout.

To service Ford, WPP operates a shared-services mega-agency for Ford in the U.S. called Team Detroit (known as Blue Team in other parts of the world). In June, Ford added WPP to a list of its preferred global suppliers in a program the automaker started in 2005 to slash the number of suppliers it works with worldwide by half.

By comparison, Chrysler's U.S. ad spending was $1.1 billion last year, ranking it as the 36th largest national advertiser, according to Ad Age's DataCenter. It has significantly slashed ad spending this year, after emerging from a fast-track, government-led reorganization under Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, and a takeover of 20% of its assets by a group led by Italian automaker Fiat.

The automaker's new-vehicle sales have been hammered, down by 39% in the first nine months of the year to 653,319 units vs. 1 million units the year-ago period.

WPP Chief Executive Martin Sorrell didn't respond to a request for comment, while representatives for Grey declined to comment on the matter.

A Ford spokesman said the company considers such a topic an internal matter; a Chrysler spokeswoman also declined to comment.

After a year marked by slashed fees that prompted hundreds of layoffs at Omnicom Group's BBDO, Chrysler in late August dealt a major blow to its longtime lead agency by announcing it was reaching out to agencies for ideas on its fourth-quarter advertising.

Executives familiar with the situation said that among the potential outcomes Chrysler is considering are the selection of four separate agencies to handle fourth-quarter advertising, one for each of its brands: Jeep, Dodge, Chrysler and the newly formed Ram truck brand, spun off from Dodge.

BBDO Detroit in Troy, Mich., is the incumbent handling creative duties for the Jeep, Dodge and Chrysler and is working around the clock to defend the account, executives said. The agencies BBDO is rumored to be up against include Omnicom's Cutwater, San Francisco, which handled Jeep for almost two years until early 2009; Publicis Groupe's Publicis & Hal Riney on the west coast; and Crispin Porter & Bogusky, which later this year will officially part ways with carmaker Volkswagen.

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