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Mazda's new North American chief expressed confidence in Foote, Cone & Belding, dismissing speculation Mazda is on the road to changing agencies for its $240 million account.

"There is talk that a change might be forthcoming. I see no such change," said Richard Beattie, sent in by Ford Motor Co. six weeks ago to be special assistant for North America to Mazda Motor Corp. President Henry Wallace. Ford owns 33.4% of Mazda.

"If anyone thinks that changing the agency is the solution to the recovery of our brand, they're very naive," said Mr. Beattie, Mazda's top executive in North America.


Mr. Beattie has asked to hear ideas from FCB, Santa Ana, Calif., and FCB Chairman-CEO Brendan Ryan has brought in top talent from the San Francisco office to help on what agency insiders call "the pitch."

Mr. Beattie said he's asked FCB for "a special time-out to bring me up to date on the history of the brand, its attributes and how they want to position the brand."

In 1993-94, Mr. Beattie was Ford's point man in boosting Jaguar's flagging image in the U.S., as VP-sales and marketing for Ford-owned Jaguar Cars North America. Jaguar's agency is Ogilvy & Mather, New York, and observers have bet Mazda will move to O&M given the increasing control Ford managers have at Mazda.

Mr. Beattie acknowledges serious problems at Mazda. Most glaring: Sales fell 37% between 1994-96 and are off another 20% through March despite a roaring recovery by other Japanese car marketers.

Mazda's customer satisfaction and brand loyalty also are far below the industry average.

Mazda has worked with FCB since 1970, making it the longest existing relationship between an import car and agency.

Mazda came close to a review two years ago, but FCB saved the account with its "Passion for the road" effort, a commitment to turn around sales and a contract that partly tied compensation to sales.


Steve Talarico, a New Hampshire Mazda dealer, said: "Foote Cone's advertising is moderate, to say the least." Yet he attributed Mazda's slow sales more to an aging model line and lack of strong incentives than to advertising.

Mazda hopes to improve its fleet this fall with new versions of its top-selling 626 sedan and a pickup.

"I think everyone's ready for a creative change. I don't think they're ready to change agencies," said Arlington, Texas, dealer Randy Hiley. "Generally, ad agencies go in the direction that they're given."

Mr. Rechtin is a reporter with Automotive News. Alice Z. Cuneo contributed to

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