Accounts In Review/2

Budget Group Budget: $40 million
Market Situation
Decision date: June Incumbent: Publicis & Hal Riney, Chicago
As the No. 3 rental car company behind Hertz and Avis, Budget has spent the past year on a buying spree, picking up Cruise America (a Harley-Davidson and RV renter) and Ryder TRS truck rental. And last month, the Daytona Beach, Fla.-based Budget unveiled plans to enter the online used-car sales business. Still, Budget could use an earnings boost, having lost $23 million in the first quarter. The client wants specific ideas on all of its businesses as well as an umbrella approach for the corporation.

Several management changes at both the agency and Budget-notably, this year’s exit of Jeff Hendrickson as executive vice president-North American rental operations-were factors leading to the review, which comes only 10 months after Riney was hired. Riney worked with Hendrickson who had overseen marketing initiatives at Budget Rent A Car. The lead client role is now held by Mike Gavalek, who remains vice president of marketing of the Budget Group.
The client has stressed its need for a long-term image strategy, while at the same time asking contenders for a heavy load of retail work, particularly newspaper ads, sources said. Some are unclear “whether Budget is looking for a long-term partner or a shot in the arm,” a source said. Others note the client doesn’t know what it wants for its rental-car business and is looking to shops for guidance-a situation that mimics last year’s review. “Let’s just say they like lots of options,” said one diplomatic shop executive. Media buying, which is not in play, remains at Starcom Media Services, Chicago.
Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis
With co-president, planning director Rob White and managing director Rob Buckner heading the pitch, the agency will focus on Budget’s brand, not its retail operations. Winning Budget would complement
Fallon’s travel portfolio, which now includes United Airlines and Holiday Inn. The agency dropped out of the pitch for Ryder TRS’ $20 million account in 1997 (before the Denver-based company was bought by Budget). But that shouldn’t have any bearing here-Ryder’s management from that time is out of the picture. Fallon is attracted to the historically unsexy client because of its ambitious expansion plans.
Cliff Freeman and Partners, New York
Budget executives were impressed with the shop’s campaigns for
Staples, and Hollywood Video. Rental car veteran, Brian Mulhern, who worked for five years on Hertz at the defunct Wells Rich Greene, is leading Freeman’s pitch from the account side. The shop has its hands full, working on six other pitches now-and this one is the biggest. Its final meeting with Budget (June 1) comes amid a final-pitch logjam with presentations to Bacardi (June 2) and (June 4 or 11), sources said. Freeman, which has been the subject of acquisition talks with Arnold Communications, is also prepping to pitch New York Life.
GSD&M, Austin, Texas
GSD&M is vying to return to the category; it served as Dollar Rent A Car’s lead agency until 1995. The agency feels its experience with Southwest Airlines has more bearing with Budget than the shop’s Dollar days, since the client wants to build a strong personality behind the brand. The agency will emphasize its comfort in working as a partner with agencies on other parts of the client’s business, and will cite its media-only role on MasterCard International as an example. Sources said to expect keen humor-suggestive of its work for Texas Lottery and Southwestern Bell-to play heavily in GSD&M’s creative strategy.
Publicis & Hal Riney, Chicago
Riney won Budget in July 1998. It was a year of upheaval for the shop, set off partly by the agency’s sale to Publicis in May. Heavy staff turnover included the defection of client services director Bill Marks and two top creatives, who opened a Chicago office of Rubin Postaer.
All of the changes left Budget wondering if it had picked the right agency, a source said. Shop president Barry Krause has seen Riney declared near death on a major account before-it rescued Subway from a seemingly certain exit in October 1996, and is making this pitch another crusade. New executive creative director Ted Barton, who came from Ogilvy & Mather, New York, is selecting creative from several agency teams. Of the several ideas Riney is pitching, some will be humorous to counter material expected from GSD&M and Cliff Freeman.