Omnicom, Zimmerman in Deal Talks

Purchase Would Strengthen TBWA/C/D’s Nissan Relationship
NEW YORK–Omnicom Group and TBWA Worldwide are in negotiations to buy Zimmerman & Partners Advertising. The move is designed to stabilize TBWA’s relationship with its biggest global client, Nissan Motor, said sources.
A deal to acquire Zimmerman, a $150 million Fort Lauderdale shop that previously handled the majority of Mitsubishi’s dealer work, would enable TBWA/Chiat/Day to fulfill its goal of creating a shop specifically for Nissan dealers. The talks between Omnicom, TBWA and Zimmerman were described as “serious.”
Bob Kuperman, TBWA president/CEO of the Americas, is leading the negotiations with Zimmerman president Jordan Zimmerman, said sources. Kuperman could not be reached, while Zimmerman declined to comment. Omnicom chief executive John Wren could not be reached last week. It was unclear whether the Florida agency’s name would change, or if it would report to TBWA or Omnicom in New York.
With French automaker Renault offering about $5 billion for an estimated 35 percent stake in Nissan, the stakes are high for TBWA. The agency handles all ads for Nissan North America as well as about 1,200 dealers. The combined account is worth more than $600 million in billings and represents roughly half of TBWA/C/D’s income. Globally, TBWA has Nissan in over 25 countries.
A Zimmerman deal would allow TBWA/C/D to consolidate work for Nissan’s often cantankerous dealers at a specialist shop while freeing up the flagship office in Playa del Rey, Calif., to focus on factory ads for the Nissan and Infiniti units. The agency handles the $200 million dealer account through seven field offices and has wanted a unit dedicated to that task. A few years ago, for example, it consolidated dealer work under a spinoff agency called The Persuasion Group, but folded TPG back into the main agency. A more recent proposal to create a spinoff dubbed “Blacktop” was stillborn [Adweek, Nov. 30].
For Zimmerman, the deal would enable the shop to cash out and link up with a larger player. Grey Advertising inked an agreement to buy Zimmerman in late 1997 as part of a strategy to jointly pitch Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America’s dealer account under the moniker “GZ.” Grey later went back on the deal, after GZ lost most of the business to Deutsch. Zimmerman has field offices in San Francisco, Elmwood Park, N.J., and Dallas.
The deal could also strengthen TBWA against possible incursions by Renault agencies like Publicis SA, which handles that automaker’s business in Europe. The French agency network has been on a buying spree in the U.S., snapping up the former Hal Riney & Partners, EvansGroup in Salt Lake City and Bloom in New York. Together, Renault and Nissan would create the world’s fourth-largest automotive company, ahead of Volkswagen and DaimlerChrysler.Separately, Tom Carroll, the new president/CEO of the West Coast office, has been working closely with Nissan division general manager Mike Seergy to develop a campaign to succeed “Enjoy the Ride,” which was unpopular with dealers, said sources. The work will focus on new models like the Maxima 2000 and could have a fresh tagline and positioning, said sources. The agency had already dumped brand icon Mr K, but retained the theme. –with Jim Osterman