Is Detroit Losing All Its Auto-Ad Buying Biz?

Chrysler Account Shifts to New York; Some Think That Ford Could Be Next

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DETROIT ( -- Detroit's wobbling ego took another hit last week after the Omnicom Group media-buying shop PHD confirmed it was moving hundreds of millions of Chrysler's national TV-buying dollars to New York from the Motor City.
Toyota Motor Sales USA executive Jim Farley
Toyota Motor Sales USA executive Jim Farley

The news, first reported by Advertising Age, leaves Ford Motor Co. as the only one of Detroit's Big Three to buy all its media -- including national TV -- in the market. General Motors Corp. has bought national TV in New York since at least 1994, when Interpublic Group of Cos. formed the dedicated GM Mediaworks to handle all buying.

And now, with former Toyota Motor Sales USA executive Jim Farley about to join Ford as group VP-global marketing and communications, speculation is running rampant that the last local holdout may reconsider.

A Ford spokesman said the carmaker doesn't expect to make any changes in the way it buys media and that it's too early to anticipate any changes Mr. Farley might make as he doesn't arrive until Nov. 12.

More responsibility
Mr. Farley will also direct leadership of U.S. marketing sales and service for Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands, succeeding Francisco Codina, who retired Nov. 30 after 30 years at the automaker.

But Phil Cowdell, CEO of WPP Group's Ford Media Services in Dearborn, Mich., isn't taking any chances. He's already working on how he and the agency will handle inquiries from Mr. Farley or other Ford executives on the matter of media buying. He told Advertising Age he plans to prepare a white paper for the automaker detailing the benefits of Ford still buying media from suburban Detroit.

"It's a chance for me to explain why Ford gets the best of both worlds," Mr. Cowdell said. WPP's co-located Ford agencies are working closer together, so there's more integration on planning, buying, digital, creative and analytics. "We don't have to sit in New York to do that," he said, adding that clients are 200 yards away.

WPP's tighter co-operation among the disciplines on Ford's account mirrors what is happening with TV, because buys increasingly include other media, such as the internet, Mr. Cowdell said. "We are getting planning and buying much closer, so it doesn't make sense to rip that apart and have your buyers 600 miles away."

'Power plays and politics'
He questioned PHD's move, wondering, "Is it about power plays and politics or what's right for the client?"

A Chrysler spokesman said the move was initiated by the Omnicom agency, not the automaker, which has been private since venture capital firm Cerberus Capital Management acquired a majority stake a few months ago.

But the nicknamed Chryslerus has made no secret it is out to trim costs.

Matt Seiler, president-CEO of PHD, said the change will end the redundancy of Chrysler's two national TV-buying groups -- one in New York, the other in Detroit. He said he informed Chrysler CMO Deborah Wahl Meyer in person of the plan, which "wasn't anything she objected to."

Digital deals
Rick Sirvaitis, former president-CEO of the New York office of Interpublic's GM Mediaworks, said he was saddened to hear about PHD's moves. He said it's not important to have buyers in Manhattan in this day and age because so much is done digitally.

"Every major broadcast and cable network has representation in the Detroit market because they call on clients and planners, not just the buyers," said Mr. Sirvaitis, who is now a consultant.

Interpublic lost GM's buying account in a 2005 shootout with Publicis Groupe's Starcom MediaVest and sibling General Motors Planworks, Detroit. Since then, Planworks has kept magazine and most digital buying in Detroit but shifted spot-TV and national radio buying to Chicago, a GM spokeswoman said. Digital-search buying is done in Chicago. Some digital deals linked to TV are made in New York and some in Chicago, depending on the partner, she said.

Michael Browner, a former exec director-media and marketing operations at GM North America who now has his own consulting firm, said it's key to have national-TV-buying agencies in New York because that's where top execs at the broadcasting outfits are. "I'm not disparaging the network people in Detroit, but you need to be where the action is and the decision makers are."
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