Agencies Skeptical of Once-Coveted Account

LOS ANGELES — An accelerated review process is turning off potential contenders to E*Trade Financial’s agency search, sources said.

The Menlo Park, Calif.-based client met with several shops earlier this month and gave them only two weeks to prepare full presentations on creative, sources said. One source described the process as “amateur hour.” In addition, agencies wouldn’t have access to key decision-makers while preparing the presentations, sources said. Another exec noted the client was unclear about whether it was reviewing all of its business or just a piece of it.

At least three shops have been contacted, including Black Rocket Euro RSCG in San Francisco, which will not participate, and Deutsch/LA in Marina del Rey, Calif., which is likely to pitch, said sources. E*Trade spent $40 million on ads in 2001, according to CMR.

Incumbent Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco last week was considering resigning the business, sources said. Goodby officials declined comment.

The reaction to E*Trade’s outreach stands in stark contrast to the A-list of contenders for a smaller local account: the Oakland Athletics. That $1-2 million review attracted Wieden + Kennedy in Portland, Ore., and the San Francisco offices of TBWA\Chiat\Day and Goodby. (The latter won the business last week.) Incumbent Foote, Cone & Belding in San Francisco also participated.

“I am taking an informal look at a variety of agencies,” said E*Trade’s Pamela Kramer, chief marketing and media officer. She was named to that post last month and began contacting shops afterward [Adweek, Dec. 9].

Kramer praised Goodby’s ads for E*Trade as “world-class,” adding, “It is my job to ensure that this same caliber of expertise infiltrates marketing in every part of the organization.” She would not comment on the process.

Goodby helped elevate E*Trade’s awareness over the past three years with Super Bowl ads starring Jonah the chimp. But the agency has produced no new work since February.

E*Trade has moved beyond its roots to offer more traditional banking services, which has caused it to seek new thinking, sources said. The client recently hired Landor Associates for a possible repositioning, sources said.