"Lee Clow is a leader. He is a visionary. He's got a track record for turning around brands," said Vada Hill, Taco Bell's VP-brand management.
The PepsiCo restaurant unit, which along with Pizza Hut and KFC will be spun off this year, needs a turnaround; same-store sales dropped 2% in 1996.
Mr. Clow, TBWA's North American chairman-chief creative officer, is one of advertising's living legends-he was recently inducted into the One Club Creative Hall of Fame. Executives close to Mr. Clow said the challenge of turning around a struggling brand like Taco Bell holds great appeal to him.
"We're an agency that likes challenges, and Lee and I are very excited about this one," said Bob Kuperman, TBWA's U.S. president-CEO.
TALKING TO THE ELITE
Mr. Hill and the man who recently hired him from BBDO Worldwide, Los Angeles, Senior VP-Marketing Peter Waller, said they knew they wanted to talk to "elite" agencies about their account.
Since incumbent Bozell, Costa Mesa, Calif., was going to keep the infrastructure-heavy media and field-service portions, agency size wasn't a big issue-getting attention from an agency's top people was.
"When you have a close relationship with the one or two principals of an agency is when you get the best work," Mr. Waller said.
A WORTHWHILE PURSUIT
The trick was convincing the nation's hottest agencies that Taco Bell was a worthwhile pursuit.
"We knew we had a checkered reputation in the agency business," Mr. Hill said. "Let's face it. We were known in some quarters as `Taco Hell.' We spent a good deal of time in the past few weeks convincing agencies that things are and will be different around here."
In addition to TBWA, Taco Bell contacted Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis; Foote, Cone & Belding and Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco; Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmet-terer/Euro RSCG, New York; and Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore. Fallon, Goodby and Wieden all turned the chain down, though in Goodby's case discussions went on for several weeks.
FCB had stayed away from other recent fast-food pitches in hopes of landing Taco Bell, a client until 1994.
TBWA had a conflict. It had handled Jack in the Box since 1993, gaining credit for helping turn around the company's fortunes after a food-poisoning scare. Approached by Messrs. Hill and Waller, TBWA executives said they were interested but couldn't compete in a review out of fairness to Jack in the Box.
Brad Haley, VP-marketing communications at Jack in the Box's parent Foodmaker, said TBWA informed him of Taco Bell's overture.
INTRIGUED BY CLOW ROLE
By now Messrs. Hill and Waller were intrigued by the idea of having Messrs. Clow and Kuperman at the helm of a new campaign.
A review would have been the next step, but Messrs. Hill and Waller said they realized a review would just slow down the process of developing advertising. With Mr. Clow promising to spend a significant amount of his time on Taco Bell, they made the decision to award their account to TBWA.
"You trust people's judgment, you trust their experience and you trust the relationship you have with them," Mr. Waller said. "It means we can move on with the business much faster."
In resigning the $50 million Jack in the Box account, TBWA pledged to do its best to provide a seamless transition.
Dick Sittig, a former full-time creative now working as a free-lancer, has been leading most of that work and will likely move with Jack in the Box to another agency.
"Our plan is to work with Dick . . . and pick up the administrative function that Chiat" handled with in-house staff, Mr. Haley said.
Contributing: Laura Petrecca