Delta Is Looking Beyond Saatchi

TBWA/C/D, Burnett Have Met With Client; Ad Brief Expected Soon
NEW YORK–Delta Air Lines is talking to agencies about its ad account, currently at Saatchi & Saatchi, the client confirmed. Those shops are believed to be TBWA Worldwide and Leo Burnett, according to sources.
Informal meetings have occurred and the Atlanta-based client is expected to brief the shops within weeks, sources said. But it’s unclear which part –if not all–of the business is in play.
“Delta basically talks with various agencies in the normal course of business and, in that, we respect the confidentially of those discussions,” said Martin White, vice president of consumer marketing at Delta.
Delta is seeking a stronger global identity in an increasingly competitive market, especially since the carrier recently aligned with Air France to serve customers in Europe and other overseas destinations.
Saatchi, which landed what was billed as a $100 million account in March 1997, is taking a wait-and-see approach. The New York shop has been developing a long-term strategy for Delta to replace its “On top of the world” tagline that was dropped earlier this year.
“We will do anything. We would absolutely want to maintain our partnership with this client,” said Jennifer Laing, Saatchi’s chairman and chief executive for North America. “We just think it’s a terrific brand. The management is terrific and we want to continue to work with them.”
Media duties are handled by Zenith Media in New York.
Word of the talks circulated as Delta continued to assess all outside relationships. Last week, the company shifted about $20-30 million of its direct and database marketing work to Bronnercom in Boston. Previously, the account was split between The Lacek Group in Minneapolis and Rapp Collins Worldwide in New York.
Delta’s management has also undergone a sea change, beginning with the 1997 arrival of president and CEO Leo Mullin and other additions to its marketing ranks. Frederick Reid, a former Lufthansa executive, was named executive vice president and chief marketing officer. White was imported from US Airways.
Following the launch of global image ads in 1997, Saatchi’s efforts have been largely tactical and regional. Its most recent TV work was a 30-second spot that touted Delta’s nonstop service to Boston. That followed a print and radio campaign introducing a new type of business class, called Business Elite.
Actual ad spending has dwindled in recent years, from a high of $70 million in 1996 to $45 million last year, per Competitive Media Reporting. It spent $11 million through March.
Delta’s discussions with TBWA have involved CEO Michael Greenlees, who is assembling a global team from New York, Los Angeles and London to pitch the business, sources said. The California office of TBWA/Chiat/Day pitched the United account three years ago.
Leo Burnett’s Chicago office handled United’s account for 31 years before it shifted to Fallon McElligott and Young & Rubicam in 1996. Burnett and TBWA/C/D declined comment.
Thus far, the talks have been casual and Delta has not specified what it’s looking for, sources said. “Seems like they are trying to test-drive an agency review before they do a real review,” one source said.
Sources speculated that the meetings could result in Saatchi keeping part of the business, while another piece goes to a new agency. One possibility: Saatchi working on tactical efforts while another shop gets global image duties. –with T.W. Siebert and David Gianatasi