Mini Cooper's creative and media review is down to six agencies.
The carmaker's marketing executives will now visit the shops before selecting three finalists. Incumbent Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners is defending and already has been granted a slot in the final round.
The other five agencies are Anomaly, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, McKinney, The Via Agency and Fitzgerald+Co., confirmed Hasan Ramusevic of Hasan + Co., the Raleigh, N.C.-based consultancy that's managing the search.
The assignment includes national, regional and dealer advertising, media planning and most media buying. Account revenue is estimated at $5-7 million.
Multicultural marketing, Web development/CRM and broadcast media buying are not in play and remain at Sanders Wingo, Beam Interactive and UM, respectively.
The semifinalists emerged from a broader field of 10 agencies that responded to Mini's initial request for proposals. The RFP noted that the review was triggered partly by the policies of Mini parent company BMW Group.
Butler, Shine has been lead creative agency since 2005 and has "reached the maximum allowable contract renewals, making this review mandatory," the document states.
That said, the advertising marketplace has changed considerably in the past seven years and, as Mini expands its product line in the U.S., the brand's marketing needs are evolving. So, Mini marketing executives, including Jim McDowell, entered the process with an open mind.
Nevertheless, some agencies approached by Mini declined to participate, thinking that Butler, Shine was a lock to keep the business, given that, by Mini's own account, 2011 was a banner year. U.S. sales volume jumped 26 percent last year to a total of 57,511 units.
"Mini is a wonderful account. I just don't think this is a real opportunity," said a leader at an agency that turned Mini down. Rather, the executive suspects that the review is a "pure procurement-driven exercise, which is good for no one except the procurement department. It's certainly not good for the industry."
The agency visits will begin the week of Feb. 20 and stretch across two weeks. Mini will select finalists in early March and final presentations will take place in April.