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Mitsubishi's Road Test

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SRI Helps Car Maker Evaluate Its Marketing

By Michael McCarthy

LOS ANGELES--The other marketing shoe is dropping at Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America. This time it's a big one.
The automaker has tapped consultancy Select Resources International here to conduct a top-to-bottom evaluation of its estimated $300 million advertising and marketing budget, as well as a review of its agency vendors.
The evaluation comes on the heels of an internal memo from chief operating officer Pierre Gagnon which stated that results have been "disappointing" and that the company needs to make "significant changes" to improve its sales, customer satisfaction and quality levels.
Peg Dilworth-Hunt, director of marketing communications for the Cypress, Calif.-based car maker, said the study is designed to "look at the whole marketing picture."
"We want to understand what's working and what's not," she said. "We have finite resources and a big branding job to do."
The strategic resources assessment could spell an opportunity for lead agency Deutsch, Marina del Rey, Calif., to pick up more business and strengthen its grip on the $140 million factory account, said sources. Under the plan, Deutsch would assume the role of agency "gatekeeper," with other shops integrating its theme into their campaigns. The shop, which previously won reviews for Mitsubishi's consolidated $80 million dealer account and the $65 million Galant launch assignment, is currently in negotiations to formally take over the factory account, said sources. SRI conducted both reviews for Mitsubishi.
Other fallout from the sweeping study, said sources, could include one or more new agency searches in the below-the-line marketing area, where Mitsubishi currently spends about $80 million annually, said sources.
Dilworth-Hunt said Mitsubishi sees an advantage in having all of its marketing communications integrated under the look, feel and theme of Deutsch's new "Wake up and drive" campaign. "Our problem in the past was we had six or seven different [agency] partners sending out six or seven different messages," she said.
She downplayed the possibility of a review for the factory account, joking that Mitsubishi and Deutsch were "in love." The agency and client's current contract runs through December.
Among the other shops the company employs are: CKS Partners in Portland, Ore., for interactive marketing; Direct Partners in Santa Monica, Calif., for direct marketing; The Designory in Santa Monica, for collateral ads; and Valdƒs Zacky Associates in Los Angeles, for Hispanic marketing.
Executives at those shops did not return phone calls by press time. Deutsch chairman and chief executive officer Donny Deutsch would only say, "Our goal is to work with Mitsubishi to come up with the best resource solutions for their business." He declined to comment on the details of whether his shop would pursue the below-the-line portion of the business directly, by buying specialist agencies or by forming alliances with other incumbents.
The study, which calls for the client and its various agencies to evaluate their own performance, will be completed in November, Dilworth-Hunt said. --with Teresa Buyikian and Angela Dawson