Midwest Agency of the Year 2002: Campbell-Ewald

One sweltering day last summer, hundreds of Campbell-Ewald employees gathered in the parking lot outside the shop’s headquarters in Warren, Mich. Wearing denim caps adorned with the United States Postal Service logo and clutching handfuls of mail, they waited for visiting USPS executives to walk out the agency’s front door.

When they did, the throng took a collective step forward and began waving the mail in the air. From magazines to personal letters to business correspondence, each piece had arrived via the USPS and inspired what the agency calls a “mail moment”—that instant when you’re looking through the mail and come across something you’ve been hoping for.

“I think [the client team was] a little taken aback,” says Jim Palmer, 44, agency president and managing director. “Have you ever had 700 people move toward you all at once? It could be overwhelming.”

Not to Larry Speakes, USPS advertising manager. “They were just being fun,” says Speakes, who once served as White House press secretary under Ron ald Reagan. “So many agencies overdo it. One outfit gave us a really big meal, a smorgasbord.”

It was the client’s third trip to Detroit as part of the review for its $100 million account, which the agency was pitching with Interpublic Group sibling DraftWorldwide in Chicago. The USPS visited each of the other finalists only once, but found something special at Campbell-Ewald. “I wasn’t able to make it to the first visit, and when the gang came back, they said I had to go back, that this is the one,” Speakes says. “I was pretty sold on them the first time I was out there.”

So was the rest of the team, which eventually delivered the account to Campbell-Ewald and Draft after a three-month review.

The USPS win was part of a year of steady growth for the agency, which boosted billings by 10 percent to an estimated $2.2 billion and revenue by 6 percent to an estimated $226 million. For its financial stability in a gray economic climate, coupled with a reel that continues to diversify, Campbell-Ewald is Ad week’s Midwest Agency of the Year for a second consecutive year.

The shop’s bedrock client re mains General Motors’ Chevrolet division. Much of Campbell-Ewald’s work for Chevy last year centered on a multifaceted marketing campaign for its sponsorship of the Winter Olym pics in Salt Lake City in February. The agency also introduced a campaign for Chevy cars built around references to the name plate in popular songs. Its work for Chevy trucks, GM’s longest-running campaign, still uses the “Like a rock” theme and music after 11 years.

“Campbell-Ewald is the best-run agency I have ever come across. And they have some pretty good creative to go along with it,” says C.J. Fraleigh, who has worked with the agency for two years as GM’s executive director of corporate marketing and advertising.

Campbell-Ewald also continues to grow its Chevy dealer business under the CE Retail unit, run by vice chairman and COO Mike Ryan, which now has 150 employees in 14 offices across the country. Some 138 local dealer groups—representing 86 percent of dealer sales—are now CE clients. Dealers get matching funds from GM if they work with CE, but not all do so, and the agency continues to woo them as it would any potential client. The $130 million boost from dealers last year adds to the agency’s already formidable retail résumé.

Other key work in 2002 included a campaign on behalf of the Ad Council for the American Cancer Society that won Best of Show at the Detroit Caddy Awards, whimsical ads for deep cleaners Bissell and Kirstie Alley’s buoyant Pier 1 commercials. The ongoing “Accelerate your life” work for the U.S. Navy has helped the client meet its recruiting goals for 15 consecutive months, the first time that has happened in more than a decade.

Palmer, boyish and earnest, says the agency’s down-to-earth attitude is what helps set it apart from its rivals. “We’re not afraid to make fun of ourselves,” he says. The agency often begins presen tations with a tongue-in-cheek “ice-breaker” video that shows its executives using the client’s products or services.

In the case of USPS, that playful spirit was complemented by a doggedness befitting the chase of a $100 million account. The 20-person team showed the client clips of agency employees getting their mail and peering into mailboxes. That was after they took an epic 13-hour bus trip from Detroit to client headquarters in Washington, D.C., followed by 14 hours in a hotel room, rehearsing and boiling down insights for the pitch.

The side of the agency’s tour bus read, “Big ideas on board, brought to you by Draft/Campbell-Ewald.” Those ideas were born out of research by David Hudson, 41. The agency’s methodical and unassuming director of planning and development says he and his staff went to 30 post offices in 11 markets. They interviewed hundreds of consumers about their perceptions of USPS services and how those differ from what’s offered by UPS and Federal Ex press. The results showed that people find it difficult to understand what Priority Mail is, for example, and why it might be a better value than using UPS or FedEx. Creative due in mid-February focuses on showing how quickly Priority Mail packages move around the country.

The USPS was impressed by Campbell-Ewald’s “technical know-how,” says Speakes, and by the way it and Draft were able to work together and bridge the geographic distance between them. “But what I really looked at is the people we’ll be working with,” he says.

Chief creative officer Bill Ludwig, 47, paints a portrait of a staff with “a Midwestern work ethic or mind-set that particularly East Coast clients are finding attractive now. We hear stories that make you laugh at the arrogance of typical New York agencies. … I’m not saying the Midwest is that much different, but Campbell-Ewald is very different.”

Tony Hopp, 57, Campbell-Ewald’s old-school chairman and CEO, puffs on a cigar as he talks about how this agency culture has won over clients for the long haul. According to a 2000 report by the 4A’s, the average client/agency relationship lasts 5.3 years. Campbell-Ewald’s average is 20 years. Its longstanding relationships include ACDelco (a client since 1919), Chevy (1922), GMAC (1933), Continental Airlines (1986), Delta Faucet (1990) and Farmers Insurance (1996).

Speakes is a believer after just a few months. He says he considers the relationship to be a true partnership. “I’ve never called over there and didn’t get Jim Palmer or Tony Hopp personally,” he says. “They don’t come in and just tell us what we should do. There’s a lot of going back and forth.”

“We are who we say we are, and we do what we say we’ll do,” says Hopp. “And in the past six years, we’ve really learned how to win.”

STATISTICS

BILLINGS
Up 10 percent to $2.2 billion (est.)

REVENUE
Up 6 percent to $226 million (est.)

WIN/LOSS PITCH RATIO
4 out of 7

ACCOUNTS WON/MEDIA BUDGET*

Chevrolet dealer groups/$130 million
United States Postal Service/$100 million**
National City Bank/$35 million
Sea World/$15 million
ConocoPhillips (corporate work)/$12 million

ACCOUNTS LOST/MEDIA BUDGET*
Sea World/$15 million

HIGHLIGHTS
Continued winning streak by adding work in several new categories; Chevy work upgraded with car-side campaign focusing on brand’s tie-ins to music; executive leadership remained stable.