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BBDO Worldwide is making a high-stakes push to snare the Dell Computer Corp. account from J. Walter Thompson USA, with the incumbent scrambling to keep the $100 million-plus business.

Dell VP-Corporate Branding Scott Helbing denied reports Dell had given JWT a 30-day notice and declined to comment on whether the computer marketer was looking beyond that agency.

"We have never put JWT on 30-day notice," Mr. Helbing said. "We are reviewing new creative, and they know how important this work is to Dell and to our relationship. JWT is our agency of record."

In late August, JWT presented new advertising, keeping its "Be direct" tag but adopting a slightly different look. There were some indications late last week that the new work could save the business.

New York-based BBDO, however, has gotten a foot in the door following months of pressing its case (AA, May 4), said people familiar with the situation. There is a chance BBDO will learn whether it may proceed as early as this week, executives said. BBDO officials declined to comment.

The agency is no stranger to Dell. Mr. Helbing worked with the shop as an executive at Pizza Hut and its parent Tricon Global Restaurants before joining Dell late last year. Its sister direct-marketing shop, Rapp Collins Worldwide, Dallas, won Dell's catalog business last year.


JWT's Chicago and New York offices teamed to prevail over Y&R Advertising, New York, and Goldberg Moser O'Neill, San Francisco, last December to win Dell's global brand account, with spending up to $110 million. Goldberg retained the estimated $60 million U.S. product account it has had since 1988.

Dell executives stressed that Goldberg was secure when JWT was signed on, and a person close to the agency last week said the Goldberg relationship is secure "for the time being."

Dell surpassed Compaq Computer Corp. in the second quarter to become the No. 1 U.S. PC marketer, according to ZD Market Intelligence.

Early on, observers said JWT had difficulty getting copy OK'd. Dell stopped airing a spot -- "Maze," with a mouse that burns a maze to get to the cheese -- that launched the brand campaign in June.


"We have halted `Maze' because we believe we need brand advertising in the initial stages that is at the proverbial 30,000-foot level, that will lead us to a point where we can communicate the more detailed benefits of [the] Dell business model over time," Mr. Helbing said.

One person close to Dell said the company wants a more "integrated" TV and print effort.

Mr. Helbing, who has been assembling a corporate brand team, said "Maze" was "very well received by our audience" but was dropped because of "a marketing judgment on our part." The brand campaign is expected to expand to Europe and one market in Asia next month.

The possibility of Dell changing agencies less than a year into a relationship is startling, but it has two precedents in the brutally competitive direct PC market: New executives at No. 2 direct marketer Gateway and No. 3 Micron Electronics each switched agencies after about a year at other shops. Both went with agencies they knew, bypassing a review.

Contributing: Alice Z. Cuneo, Carol Krol, Mercedes M. Cardona, Judann Pollack, Laura Petrecca.

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