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J. Walter thompson USA, preparing to launch a major study of its interactive strategy, has shut down its pioneering Detroit online marketing division and laid off four of the unit's seven staffers.

JWT Detroit had been one of two interactive "centers of excellence" for the agency, said President Peter Schweitzer. The other is JWT's San Francisco office, with four interactive specialists.

The agency will discuss whether to keep San Francisco as its only specialty center or integrate interactive work into all its offices nationwide during a series of global strategy meetings scheduled for next month.

Among those affected by the Detroit move was online unit Director Roland Sharette, who helped found the group in 1990, well before most agencies had gotten involved in interactive marketing.


JWT offered Mr. Sharette a research job, but he turned it down. He's writing a book on electronic commerce and marketing, due this fall from McGraw-Hill. He couldn't be reached for comment.

After closing the online unit, the Detroit office moved four staffers-none from the online unit-into creative teams to provide electronic media expertise, said Don Topping, senior partner and executive management director of worldwide strategic services on the Ford Division account.

The online unit historically handled work for services like Prodigy and CompuServe. But Ford pulled those efforts last year as it beefed up its Web presence.

Ford used outsider SoftAd Group, Mill Valley, Calif., to create its corporate Web site (http://www.ford.com) in 1995. That company retains a significant portion of Ford's Web work, at least for now, said Larry Dale, a marketing specialist who serves as the automaker's Webmaster.

"Back in 1995, SoftAd had 100% of our Web business," Mr. Dale said. "Today, less than 75%, I'd guess, is at SoftAd, and that probably will continue to decline."

JWT has already angled for more of the business; it's working on dealer Web sites, a site for Ford Credit and is creating ad banners


Meanwhile, Wunderman Cato Johnson, Detroit, direct marketing agency for Ford's Lincoln-Mercury Division, is beefing up its interactive staff, said President Wally Thursam.

It just hired Nick Stoyanoff as its first manager of interactive communications, and plans to hire two more people.

"In two years, we've probably quadrupled our interactive involvement from a people and billings standpoint," Mr. Thursam said.

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