Cindy Nelson Managed $1 Billion in Annual Spending

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DETROIT ( -- Cindy Nelson, the top media buying executive for the Chrysler Group at Omnicom Group's PHD, Detroit, has resigned. Her last day was Friday.

Ms. Nelson was executive vice president and general manager at the agency, a unit of Omnicom Group. Ms. Nelson oversaw more than $1 billion in annual media spending by the Chrysler Group.

New marketing chief
Her departure follows the arrival in June of a German executive, Joe Eberhardt, as Chrysler's head of sales and marketing. He had said he would completely review the company's marketing, including ad spending. Chrysler Group is part of DaimlerChrysler.

Jodi Tinson, a PHD spokeswoman, said, "Cindy Nelson has resigned to pursue other interests outside PHD. No successor has been named yet."

Day-to-day operations
"Three group vice presidents will handle the day-to-day operations of PHD. They will report to Steve Grubbs, head of PHD, New York. Grubbs will be in Detroit once a week to oversee the business," Ms. Tinson said.

Calls to Ms. Nelson's office requesting an interview were not returned.

PHD in Detroit oversees media planning and buying for the Chrysler brand, Dodge, Jeep, Chrysler Financial, Mopar and the company's corporate activities.

$1.17 billion spent
Chrysler Group spent $1.17 billion in measured media in 2002, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

U.S. sales of Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler were off 4.7%, to 1,283,644 units, through July, compared to one year ago. The entire U.S. market fell 2.2% in the same period.

On June 1, Joe Eberhardt took over as the Chrysler Group's executive vice president of global sales, marketing and service. Chrysler Group CEO Dieter Zetsche handpicked Mr. Eberhardt, a German, to replace Jim Schroer.

Top-to-bottom review
In July, Mr. Eberhardt said he had begun a top-to-bottom review of the company's sales and marketing operations, including budgets, to determine what changes are needed.

"We are looking at everything," Mr. Eberhardt said at that time. "Is it more effective to spend $100 million on incentives vs. $100 million on advertising? I don't have the answer to that today, but we will take a look at that."

Asked if Ms. Nelson's departure is related to Mr. Eberhardt's sweeping review, PHD's Ms. Tinson said, "I would not want to speculate that the two are interlinked. Joe Eberhardt has only been there a short time. He is still in a learning curve. I wouldn't want to connect the two at this point."

Chrysler Group spokesman Dave Elshoff declined comment on "human resource issues at a supplier."

Financial struggles
Chrysler is struggling financially. In July, the company reported a $1.1 billion operating loss in the second quarter, blaming costly incentives.

Until June, Chrysler was projecting a $2 billion operating profit in 2003. Now, the company says there are "substantial risks" to its revised goal of breaking even in 2003.

Another unit of Omnicom, BBDO Worldwide, handles Chrysler Group's advertising.

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