Exclusive: Nissan seeks media audit for $1B acc't

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Nissan North America is shopping for a media-audit company to keep a close eye on its nearly $1 billion in media spending. A decision is expected this month.

Steven Wilhite, VP-marketing at the automaker for both Nissan and Infiniti brands, confirmed the search for an auditor of all media for both divisions. "We are just trying to be smart," he said. "We are taking a look at the media landscape, our media efficiencies and reaching our target audiences."

He called 2003's broadcast TV upfront increases "ridiculous" at a time the networks' audiences "are losing the people we don't want to lose." He declined to discuss the number of companies in the review, their names or when a decision would be made.

The review is being handled by Matt Bryant, an independent media consultant, formerly president of Media Buying Services International, a shop that was acquired by Aegis Group's Carat as its U.S. beachhead in 1996. Mr. Bryant canvassed media-audit agencies for Nissan, sending out proposal requests to Hawk Media, San Francisco; Media Analysis Plus, Chicago; Advantage Media, Lakewood, Colorado; Media Performance Monitor America, Tarrytown, N.Y.; and Media Audits, a U.K. firm with no U.S. office. Executives from these shops confirmed that they had been contacted by Nissan but would provide no details. Mr. Bryant declined to comment.

Media audits are just beginning to catch on among auto marketers in this country. The heat is being generated mostly by dealer groups, which kick their own money into ad budgets and want to track a return on their investment. Last year, Hyundai and Kia in the U.S. formed World Marketing Group, an Irvine, Calif.-based limited partnership that, according to Kenny Han, chief marketing officer of WMG, was created to audit and oversee Aegis Group's Carat North America's handling of its consolidated media account. WMG launched a review for a media audit company to assist the process, and the list of contenders was virtually identical to Nissan's. In the end, it was the brand's dealers that finally hired an outside media audit company.

The practice of auditing auto media is more prevalent in Europe than in the U.S. "I'm not sure that there is an automaker in Europe that is not auditing its media," said one media agency executive, who noted that there are not enough auditing companies to handle all the European business. "That's why you see shops such as Media Audit handling several competing car accounts at once."

the Brit edge

Several executives in the review said that the British-based audit shops hold an edge over the U.S. shops. "They [Nissan] said they are comfortable with the European way of doing audits," said an executive from another shop in the review who requested anonymity. "They are enamored of the Brits," said another executive with knowledge.

Media Performance Monitor is the newly launched U.S. branch of Billetts, a U.K. company assessing over $1.7 billion of global ad spending every year and representing 39% of the U.K.'s top 250 marketers. The shop formed a partnership here with SQAD, a media data company that tracks spot-TV unit prices. MPMA, and parent Billets, claim that they do not do traditional audits, but rather conduct "continuous performance monitoring," which involves tracking the performance of an advertiser's dollar investment in media while also overseeing the quality of executions. P.J. Leary, chief operating officer of Media Performance Monitor, and Erwin Ephron, a partner in the company, both declined to comment.

capturing imaginations

Media Audit, headquartered in London, handles Nissan across Europe. Julian Spooner, CEO, would not comment on the review, but said his company has 10 U.S. clients, which he would not identify, and hopes to open offices soon in the States. "We certainly see the interest in our services and the amount of business that we are doing in the U.S. growing very fast," said Mr. Spooner. "It is something that is capturing the imagination of clients."

Page Thompson, CEO OMD North America, Nissan's media agency, said his company was aware of the review. "We have no problem with it at all," he said.

The review is part of a broader move by Nissan globally, as the automaker strives to increase revenue and vehicle sales. Mr. Wilhite praised OMD as "a terrific partner" that's "done extraordinary work on our behalf."

Last year, Nissan North America's spent $966.7 million on media for both the Nissan and Infiniti brands.

contributing: jean halliday

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