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An engineer by training, Ed Eskandarian's new task is to design a comeback for the Volkswagen brand in the U.S. and Canada.

As chairman-CEO of Arnold Fortuna Lawner & Cabot, Mr. Eskandarian mapped out the strategy that enabled the Boston agency to beat out three better-known rivals for Volkswagen of America's estimated $90 million U.S. and Canadian account.

Mr. Eskandarian vowed early in the review that his agency wouldn't lose for lack of effort. Staffers visited 100 top VW dealers and phoned another 500 dealers to assess VW's situation. Agency executives also logged 50,000 miles driving rented Volkswagens.

"This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we weren't going to let it pass without using every ounce of energy we had," said Mr. Eskandarian, who, through a series of acquisitions, turned Arnold Fortuna into New England's largest agency with 1994 billings of $364 million. "When we started, we set our sights on becoming a major regional and national player."

Arnold Fortuna won out over the Richards Group, Dallas, and New York agencies DDB Needham Worldwide and Deutsch. It replaces Berlin Cameron Doyle.

"Arnold Fortuna just seemed to nail who Volkswagen is and who the customer is," said Ben Hulsey, a Houston dealer who was part of VW's agency selection team.

VW's glory years in the U.S. were in the 1960s and early '70s, when advertising by Doyle Dane Bernbach, New York, helped make the Beetle a cultural icon.

"It was a very special car and people who drove it felt different and special," Mr. Eskandarian said. "In some ways the Beetle heritage has held them back. VW still has the same engineering and reliability, but their cars today are entirely different. They are real driving cars."

VW sold 97,043 cars and small vans in the U.S. last year, up 95.9% from '93, when lack of product stunted sales. The company hopes to pass the 200,000-unit mark before the end of the decade. VW reached its high-water mark in the U.S. in 1970, with sales of 569,182 units.

Arnold Fortuna has developed a reputation for retail advertising with clients such as McDonald's Corp. franchisees and Hechinger Co.'s Home Quarters, but has also done brand building for the likes of Stanley Works tools and Titleist golf products.

Before entering the ad business, Mr. Eskandarian applied his engineering background at NASA. He noted that advertising isn't rocket science but is more satisfying because it involves people. Andrew Cranin contributed to this story.

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