Ford recruits Accenture for marketing plan

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WPP Group's Martin Sorrell has often warned the ad industry about the threat posed by management consultants muscling into the business. Now his fears have come to fruition as one of his biggest clients, Ford Motor Co., has asked Accenture to put a microscope to its upcoming marketing plans.

The automaker, which last week announced a sweeping revitalization plan for North America, has hired Accenture for a U.S. media measurement and optimization program that could dramatically change its thinking on launch-ad spending and media mix-and therefore, potentially, affect the type of work done by Ford's agencies, almost all of which are owned by WPP.

The carmaker is said to be specifically studying major model launches for Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands. Ford wants to know the optimum national and regional dealer group media weight and mix for a vehicle based on its targeted annual sales' volume, according to two executives close to the matter.

Jeffrey Merrihue, CEO of Accenture Marketing Services, London, confirmed his firm had been hired, but declined to comment further. Murat Yalman, a former global marketing manager who was promoted to executive director-marketing services at Ford last year, is orchestrating the program on the client side. He also said he couldn't talk about it at this time.

There was no pitch, and this is not the first work Accenture has done for Ford. According to two executives close to the matter who requested anonymity, Accenture's prior work for Ford has included looking at marketing ROI as well as designing, building and managing a Web-based e-learning program to deliver technical education to its suppliers.

Accenture announced last December it had acquired Media Audits and was integrating its staff and offerings into its Marketing Sciences unit.

Ford first gathered data from several outside firms before picking Accenture, a global consulting firm with more than 110 offices in 48 countries. The program is likely to start on the East Coast, before possibly being rolled out nationally.

Ford Motor spent $1.14 billion in measured media across its stable of auto brands in the first 10 months of 2005, according to TNS Media Intelligence. Of that, the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands got a total of $934 million.

The automaker first hired media auditor Media Performance Monitor America for the U.S. in 2004 as the U.K. firm was pushing into this market. More big clients have studied ROI on media buys as their finance departments gained authority in the marketing area.

Accenture's role isn't to replace any of Ford's existing agencies. "It's an additive thing, not a substitutive thing," a third executive said. The validity of the data could be an issue, another executive cautioned, saying it may not be solid enough to warrant Ford throwing all its eggs into a strategic-media-planning basket. But if the data are solid, it would "significantly" affect Ford's media mix.

Like other major advertisers, Ford has already started beefing up its online advertising. Ford Motor increased its U.S. online ad spending across all its brands by 22% to $43.5 million in the first nine months of 2005 vs. the same 2004 period, TNS said. In the same time frame, the automaker cut spending in broadcast TV by $28 million to $325 million and boosted its cable TV buys by $47 million to $121 million.

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