For Saatchi, the Toyota call was a close one

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Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, held on to the $90 million Greater New York Toyota Dealers Association account, which it has had for over two decades. But the bitterly contested review revealed the Publicis Groupe agency's grip is far from firm.

"It wasn't a referendum, that's for sure," said Dennis Lauzon, the New Jersey dealer who oversaw the review as president of the Greater New York Toyota Dealer Association. The dealers were evenly split between incumbent Saatchi and Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, New York.

Keeping the account at Saatchi, Mr. Lauzon said, "was a sensible thing to do. You have to give the benefit of the doubt to the people you've done business with for 25 years." The panel decided to follow its own bylaws regarding the election of officers: in the event of a tie, the incumbent wins. A Saatchi spokesman declined comment.

Three of the four finalists-Wolf Group, New York, part of Toronto-based Wolf Group Integrated Communications; Grey Global Group's Grey, New York; and Interpublic Group of Cos.' Hill Holliday-presented July 29. Incumbent Saatchi met with the 14-person panel July 30. Late that day, executives familiar with the situation said, Grey and Wolf learned they were out of the review. Mr. Lauzon phoned Hill Holliday President Brian Carty that evening.

strange review

The surprising finish was one of several offbeat details in a review that began in late spring, was cut to seven agencies in May, then four in June. Another odd aspect included the Dealers Association's decision to hire as a consultant Earl King, a longtime Saatchi & Saatchi account executive who ran the business for over a decade and left the shop nearly two years ago. Mr. King was allowed to sit in on all presentations, but could ask questions during only three of the four presentations. His silence was insisted upon during Saatchi's meeting.

Numerous executives within agencies that presented, as well as at Toyota dealerships, were shocked, and in some cases, angry with the review's outcome. "This was more or less a vote of no confidence," said one executive at a participating agency.

Hill Holliday, according to people familiar with the shop's presentation, grabbed attention from the start of its allotted period. Two Hill Holliday representatives, dressed in old-fashioned newsboy outfits and armed with tabloid newspapers titled New York Pitch, were sent to meet Toyota dealers as they exited Grey Worldwide's offices. Their presence riled Grey, which was finishing its pitch in front of its building with a staged unveiling of a Toyota. Building security guards were called, and Hill Holliday's duo shuffled off the premises.

Hill Holliday presented an hour later in its new but not-yet occupied office space. Mr. Carty led, along with head strategist Laurel Rossi, chief creative Jeroen Bours and a freelance consultant, John Woodruff. The presentation included send-off gifts of picture phones programmed with the phone numbers of key agency staffers. The Hill Holliday team kept its cool despite an unexpected interruption caused when one Toyota dealer, Charlie Barrett, fainted during the presentation and had to be taken to a nearby hospital. (Mr. Barrett recovered and attended the Saatchi pitch the next day.)

"Hill Holliday did a sensational job," Mr. Lauzon said. "They have nothing to be ashamed of."

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