Grey L.A. Ends New-Business Drought In Style—With BMW

The expected decision by BMW’s Western Region to hand Grey its $30 million creative account would be a welcome win for a shop that has not prevailed in a major review since October 2001, when it retained its $60 million California Department of Consumer Affairs energy-conservation business.

BMW and Grey declined to confirm the win late last week. But it appears Grey president John Crosson has achieved the prize he has coveted since being promoted to that position in July 2000: a car account. The shop lost its regional Mitsubishi business in 1997.

Two of Crosson’s hires played key roles in the BMW pitch: Tom Cavanagh, who was hired to head up new business shortly after Crosson arrived; and Bob Merlotti, who arrived last March as evp and executive creative director.

Cavanagh is a Detroit native with 33 years of car-account experience. He worked on Chevrolet at Campbell-Ewald, on Mazda at Foote Cone & Belding and, later, on the client side at Isuzu.

Merlotti, who worked on Anheuser-Busch and McDonald’s at Omnicom Group’s DDB Chicago before putting in a stint at WPP Group’s J. Walter Thompson, has no car experience. “I was at DDB when they had Audi. I think I probably walked by a board,” he joked.

Nonetheless, Merlotti led creative on Grey’s pitch team, which also included Crosson, Cavanagh, vp/associate creative director Melissa Webber and senior account planner Kerry Bennett. The team made its final presentation two weeks ago before dozens of BMW dealers and national and regional executives in a cavernous music room with stained-glass windows in Riverside’s historic Mission Inn.

Sources said Grey pitched three separate campaigns. Details were not available.

The incumbent was Mendelsohn/Zien in Los Angeles, which is partially owned by Hakuhodo in Japan. “I didn’t withhold a thing,” said Jordin Mendelsohn, principal and creative director at M/Z, of the presentations. “BMW sales were up every year we had them. We left the room with our heads held high.”

Other contenders were Publicis Groupe’s Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco, and independent Heil-Brice Retail Advertising, Newport Beach, Calif. Before the final presentations, independent Secret Weapon in Santa Monica, Calif., withdrew from the review.

A representative for BMW, whose Western Region offices are in Ontario, Calif., declined comment, as did representatives for Grey and search consultant Select Resources International in West Hollywood, Calif.

Media buying is at Publicis’ Optimedia in Seattle and Interpublic Group’s Newspaper Services of America in Downers Grove, Ill.