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AAA Group Nears Agency Decision

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LOS ANGELES The AAA of Northern California, Nevada and Utah's eight-week search for an agency to "cover the entire marketing gamut" could conclude as soon as this week, a representative for the travel-assistance association said.

The San Francisco-based AAA affiliate—known as the California State Automobile Association before merging with the Nevada and Utah organizations last year—narrowed its contender list to five in late December, according to sources. Follow-up meetings with at least two shops were held within the past week.

Finalists in the review, sources said, included Publicis Groupe's Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco; WPP Group's Cole & Weber/Red Cell, Seattle; and independents RPA, Santa Monica, Calif., R&R Partners, Las Vegas, and the incumbent, Buder Engel & Friends, San Francisco.

Santa Monica, Calif., consultancy Select Resources International is managing the review.

The client is "not unhappy" with Buder Engel, said Alexandra Morehouse, chief marketing officer of the 4.2 million member AAA affiliate. She added, however, that the branch was shifting its focus from "strict brand marketing" to "really thinking about the overarching customer experience."

Morehouse said the group needs an agency that could "handle a spectrum" of marketing challenges, including print, out-of-home, interactive and broadcast advertising efforts, as well as direct response, email and work on the affiliate's monthly publication, Via.

"We need an [agency that can] keep a creative edge and do media, too," she said, noting that client would like to "own the drive-time media broadcast."

While the AAA is already known for its roadside-assistance services, Morehouse said the affiliate's 2006 marketing efforts would both "build upon that and get across the entire value proposition."

The winning agency, she explained, would work closely with the affiliate's in-house creative team to promote available AAA travel services, restaurant deals and retail discounts, among other member benefits. The branch also intends to expand its outreach among previously under-addressed communities such as Hispanic, gay and lesbian and Hmong consumers, she said.

Overall brand standards, Morehouse noted, originate at WPP Group's Landor Associates, San Francisco, lead agency for the national AAA.

The second-largest affiliate of the national AAA federation, the AAA of Northern California, Nevada and Utah spent $900,000 on advertising in 2004, per TNS Media Intelligence. The branch's 2006 budget is expected to be slightly higher, Morehouse said, thanks to a number of recently launched partnerships and initiatives.