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Pale from lack of sleep, his stomach churning, Jim Palmer couldn't believe his eyes. Despite his order prohibiting agency theatrics, there was Bibendum, the Michelin Man, tumbling out of a limousine, right in front of a potential client.

The day before, after a labor-intensive pitch against formidable competition, the 43-year-old Campbell-Ewald president and managing director got a call from Mich elin brand manager David Jones, who said he had a few more questions. Later, at the agency's 10-story headquarters in Warren, Mich., Jones concocted a story to lure Palmer outside. Out in the parking lot, the Michelin Man emerged from the limo handed a confused Palmer a piece of paper. There were no more questions. The shop was being awarded the $35 million account.

The win, notched last June, was a benchmark for the Interpublic Group agency, proving it can go up against—and beat—such creative shops as Car michael Lynch and The Martin Agency, both finalists in the Michelin review. It also gave Campbell-Ewald yet another high-profile account beyond Chevrolet, its cornerstone client, and a chance to add to its winning work for the government and in hard goods and retail.

Tony Hopp, 56, the agency's chairman and CEO, says his shop has finally succeeded in "coming out of the closet." Gaining awareness outside automotive circles became a personal goal of Hopp's in 1997. Now, he says, "we look at ourselves as an absolute powerhouse."

In addition to Michelin, wins last year included $150 million in business from U.S. Chevrolet dealer local marketing groups; the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid's $35 million account; and a $10 million piece of business from Six Continents Hotel Group. The shop didn't suffer a single loss, and it handled the growth while delivering its first work for accounts won in 2000, including the U.S. Navy, Bissell and Pier 1 Imports.

For those wins, coupled with an increasingly impressive reel, Campbell-Ewald has been named Adweek's Mid west Agency of the Year.

It took Campbell-Ewald 85 years to tally $1 billion in billings, a milestone it reached in 1996, but just five more to hit $2 billion. Spending cuts by clients kept revenue gains modest in 2001—up about 2 percent, to $214 million.

Vice chairman and chief creative officer Bill Ludwig says his staff has met the goal of extending the "incredible passion and love affair with the Chevrolet brand" to other clients. He credits the success to a strong Midwestern work ethic. "We're just very, very passionate without being arrogant," says Ludwig, 46. "We're very approachable and friendly and collaborative."

The passion was evident in last year's debut work for the Navy. A series of 15-second in-your-face TV spots are backed by pulsating music from the band Godsmack. The spots feature quick cuts of the type of "life-transforming" adventures, action and training Navy recruits can expect. In one execution, a voiceover asks, "If someone wrote a book about your life, would anyone want to read it?" Included is footage of extreme sports-type training and the tagline, "Accelerate your life."

Ads for Bissell take a tongue-in-cheek approach. One shows an overworked dad chasing a toddler around while cleaning the house with Bissel appliances. In another, a neatnik biker throws a party and keeps his cool—thanks to his Bissell steam cleaner—when his cronies slosh smoothies on the carpet while watching figure skating.

Chevy truck spots used Bob Seger's song "Like a Rock" for the 10th year, and the ads still seem to resonate with consumers. A new division themeline, "We'll be there," was introduced several years ago, playing up reliability. Chevy is by far General Motors' largest division, with 2001 sales totaling 2,689,954 units, up 2.8 percent from 2000.

With billings of about $700 million, Chevy is still the agency's most important client. But it has not proved an albatross to growth. John G. Middlebrook, GM's vice president and general man ager, says the agency hasn't missed a beat despite its expanded client port folio. He calls the shop's Chevy work, particularly on the truck side of the business, "solid gold."

Strong research results in successful creative, notes Ludwig. "Over 75 percent of what we show clients goes on the air," he says. Michelin executives say the agency's integrated approach is a key reason it won the business. As an example, the tire maker points to the close relationship the agency's employees from the below-the-line disciplines have with the creatives.

The year was not without its struggles. Debbie Karnowsky, the No. 2 creative, was given the task of managing the shop's faltering Los Angeles office, which has had difficulty winning new business. Karnowsky, 53, also oversees Pier 1 creative, which comes out of Warren, as well as the agency's initiatives to learn more about marketing to women.

Part of what has helped Campbell-Ewald expand is its ability to apply to other arenas what it has learned from years working on Chevy dealers and the retail side of the business, says Jeff Scott, 42, president of integrated account services, who works on new-business pitches.

The building blocks put in place several years ago are still driving the company, Hopp says. "We haven't begun to see how big we're going to be and how good we're going to be."

STATISTICS

BILLINGS
Up 5 percent to $2 billion (est.)


REVENUE
Up 2 percent to $214 million (est.)


Win/Loss Pitch Ratio
13 out of 32

Accounts Won/Media Budget*
Chevy dealer local marketing groups/$150 million
Michelin/$35 million
U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid/$35 million
Six Continents Hotel Group/$10 million

Accounts Lost
None

Highlights
Expanded creative expertise to non-Chevrolet clients, including Pier 1, the U.S. Navy and Bissell; Mike Ryan, vice chairman and chief operating officer, and co-presidents Jim Palmer and Jeff Scott stepped up to the task of becoming the agency's new generation of leaders.

*Only largest accounts included.
Sources: Adweek, agency reports and CMR.