Compaq may consolidate account

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Compaq Computer Corp. said it will decide in 30 to 60 days whether to consolidate its estimated $200 million global account at one agency.

Director of Advertising Kathleen Harrington said Compaq will consider only two agencies: U.S. shop Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York, and European agency Bates Europe, London.

"We have no plans to do an outside review. That's definite," Ms. Harrington said. Compaq would go to a single agency largely so it could communicate the same message to major business customers globally, she said.

Ms. Harrington said Compaq has brought on two consultants to assist in the evaluation. Others identified the consultants as Bill Weilbacher of Dennis, Mass., and Morgan Anderson & Co., New York.

Mr. Weilbacher denied he was working with Compaq. Efforts to reach Morgan Anderson were unsuccessful. Morgan Anderson managed Compaq's 1991 review resulting in the hiring of Ammirati.

Ammirati and Bates are abuzz with talk about the global account. "There are serious discussions about consolidating the account," said an executive at one agency.

Despite Ms. Harrington's assurances, some insiders at the incumbent agencies believe Compaq could go into a general review if Compaq executives can't agree on whether to choose Ammirati or Bates. Ms. Harrington has a close relationship with Ammirati, while Bates has strong ties to many European managers. Ms. Harrington said: "We've been very pleased with both agencies' capabilities."

Compaq last fall fielded a global brand campaign in the form of separate campaigns from Ammirati and Bates running in multiple regions. Compaq recently asked Ammirati, Hamburg, and Bates, London, to pitch ideas in Europe. Ammirati has presented a new campaign using the tagline, "Change is good," according to people familiar with the effort.

But late last week, Compaq halted focus group tests in London on that campaign after seeing poor initial results, said individuals familiar with the effort. Compaq has had plans to do focus groups in London, Europe and Sydney for the TV and print campaign, according to people familiar with the ads.

Plans for the campaign following the London tests couldn't be determined late last week. Assuming it tested well, the campaign had been expected to start soon in the U.K. and possibly elsewhere.

Ammirati and Bates are Compaq's primary agencies. Compaq also works with Euro RSCG Partnership, Hong Kong, in Asia Pacific; and Hakuhodo, Tokyo, in Japan.

Compaq, the world's largest personal computer marketer, long has left advertising up to its regions. But there are signs of new global thinking amid confusion about where marketing and advertising are headed.

Last month, Compaq brought in ex-IBM Corp. executive David Middleton as VP-marketing and communications, making him Compaq's first global marketing chief. Mr. Middleton moved Ms. Harrington from director of advertising-North America to the same post worldwide.

Meanwhile, Compaq is working with executive search company Egon Zehnder International to recruit a head of global marketing communications. But Compaq appears undecided whether that executive should report to Mr. Middleton, who has little background in brand marketing or advertising, or to President-CEO Eckhard Pfeiffer.

Since Mr. Pfeiffer took power and engineered a turnaround in 1991 that included the hiring of Ammirati as U.S. agency, Compaq has seen its revenues leap from $3.3 billion in '91 to $18.1 billion last year.

But with a goal of making No. 1 PC maker Compaq into one of the world's top three overall computer makers by 2000, Mr. Pfeiffer again is rejiggering the company. Compaq, for example, wants to improve its production and delivery systems to match some of the efficiencies of fast-growing direct marketers Dell Computer Corp. and Gateway 2000. In that climate, it's no surprise Compaq is rethinking marketing and advertising.

Compaq appears to be considering a major move into the direct market: Micron Electronics, a growing mail-order PC marketer, this month said it had been in talks with Compaq about the sale of Micron, though the talks had ended. Compaq employs some key direct talent: Mr. Middleton worked in PC direct marketing at IBM and NEC Technologies.

Contributing: Laura Petrecca, Laurel Wentz.

Copyright April 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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