Behind the scenes: Kia win gives new meaning to David & Goliath

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Few-if any-industry observers expected David & Goliath to hang on to Kia Motors America's national and regional dealer creative accounts when the automaker put its business up for review six months ago. But late last year the Los Angeles agency lived up to its name as the South Korean car and truck importer astonished the industry by retaining David & Goliath.

Even some insiders at the incumbent agency expected Omnicom Group's GSD&M, Austin, Texas, to drive off with the account. GSD&M dropped out as a finalist in Subaru of America's review to join Kia's and believed it had a great chance of winning. GSD&M and other agencies in the review had already been eyeing office space in Irvine, Calif., near Kia headquarters, as well as possible new hires.

But with determination, a strong strategy and theme-"Engineering possibilities"-David & Goliath prevailed. "What wowed us was they are as good as we thought they were," said Peter Butterfield, president-CEO of Kia. "Nobody really knocked them out."

`the right people'

"We refused to die," said David Angelo, chairman-chief creative officer of David & Goliath. "We presented our hearts out." The incumbent agency had its experience on the account working in its favor, he added, attributing the win to "having the right people with the strength and will to retain the business." He referred all other questions to his client.

Mr. Butterfield denied speculation that the winner was decided more on financial criteria than creative and that an independent had an edge over an agency with a publicly traded parent. He said creative fees are "minuscule compared to the overall budget" on Kia's massive national and regional dealer media buys annually. Kia spends roughly $270 million annually in national and regional dealer measured media.

Mr. Butterfield inherited the agency when he arrived in late 2001. David & Goliath was started in late 1999 to handle the account Kia's former management gave it.

Each Kia department was represented on the review panel, including marketing, sales, public relations, finance and parts and service. The same formal scoring metrics were used to rate the four finalists: Cramer Krasselt, Chicago; David & Goliath; GSD&M and MDC Partners' Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, New York.

Mr. Butterfield said that he and South Korean James Lee, former president-CEO and now senior executive adviser, made the final recommendation to Kia Motors America.

The Kia chief said "it was very close and the final two agencies were very close" after the presentations from all four, but he declined to confirm that GSD&M was the runner up. But GSD&M undeniably pulled out all the stops: Spirits of the incumbent were dampened after seeing GSD&M's massive plasma screen inside the presentation room, described as "Vegas-like" by one observer.

other ideas

GSD&M pitched "Wow" as a theme to convey getting a lot of car for the money, while Kirshenbaum's recommendation was that Kia position itself as "an aspirational car for the masses" rather than just a low-cost vehicle. Cramer-Krasselt positioned the Spectra 5 as an urban car and the campaign played up the urban environment, according to executives familiar with the situation. Representatives for GSD&M, Kirshenbaum and Cramer declined to comment.

Mr. Butterfield wouldn't discuss the specifics of any pitch. Since Kia paid a fee to the finalists, it owns all the content from their presentations.

contributing: lisa sanders

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