Accounts In Review/2

Compiled by Teresa Buyikian and Andrew McMains
1-800-Contacts $18 million
Decision date: late March Incumbent: none
The No. 2 company in the burgeoning direct-to-consumer replacement contact lens category was founded in 1995 and is growing rapidly: Sales jumped from $21 million in 1997 to more than $60 million last year. The Draper, Utah, client’s largest rival is Lens Express. Even so, 1-800-Contacts’ main competitors are traditional optometrists. Known in the industry as “very straight, very ethical,” the company’s advertising to date consists of grip-and-grin product shots. Lens Express, by contrast, has tied its image to spokesperson Lynda “Wonder Woman” Carter.
President Jonathan Coon began the publicly held company as a graduate student and still controls a 40 percent stake. He is overseeing the review with co-founder John Nichols. They originally thought only small shops would be interested and were impressed when larger agencies responded, sources said. The client wants to develop a brand identity before the lucrative category sees a further influx of competitors. Emphasis is being placed on e-commerce, via its Web site. Although media is slated to remain with Media That Works, Cincinnati, sources said the client is also evaluating its options there. Final presentations are set for March 25 and 26.
Gotham, New York
Gotham was invited to the review by Select Resources International, Los Angeles, at the direction of client co-founder Coon. He had seen ads for E*Trade and thought they nailed what that e-business player needed.
1-800-Contacts faces a similar challenge: Convince consumers to buy online, rather than through a broker. Obviously, the Interpublic shop will be leaning on this experience, and will likely mention that E*Trade’s stock price has tripled since the agency came aboard two years ago. A win here, however, would be small consolation for its failing grip on E*Trade, which appears headed to Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. Gotham’s distance from the client is not a factor, sources said.

D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Los Angeles
DMB&B is suffering from a several-months-long new business drought. Its hopes will be pinned in part on Terry Balagia, its new executive creative director. This is Balagia’s first test since joining the shop from Saatchi & Saatchi, where he headed Canadian operations and had a reputation as a charismatic presenter. The agency will pitch its branded direct response experience from Gateway Computers and General Motors’ Internet Buy Power program. The shop is also contending in two other SRI pitches, for Del Webb Corp. and Bugle Boy, but those pitches are not yet under way.

Rubin Postaer and Associates, Santa Monica, Calif.
Director of client services Gary Wenzel is leading the pitch, but the shop has not decided who will head up the account in the event of a victory. RPA has shied away from pitches of late; sources said it is focusing on those where it stands a real chance to win. The agency will likely tout its direct and interactive work for Honda, Web TV and American Century.

Sauza Tequilas Budget: $12-15 Million
Decision date: March, Incumbents: Cliff Freeman and Partners and Weiss
Stagliano Partners, both New York Allied Domecq Spirits USA’s Sauza ranks third among all U.S. tequilas, per Adams Handbook Advance. Sales grew 45 percent last year; tequila is the fastest-growing category among spirits brands. Jose Cuervo is Sauza’s chief rival; Montezuma is No. 2. Budgets are expected to grow significantly from what the Old Greenwich, Conn.-based client spent in years past.
Eyebrows were raised when the review was called, given Sauza’s record sales and Cliff Freeman’s award-winning “Life is Harsh” ads. Allied, however, is rethinking its entire portfolio and wants Sauza to be more sophisticated. It is asking for strategic and creative concepts that will give Sauza as big a name as Cuervo. With client executives in London observing, some think the winner may get to export its work. New York shop Select is a possible latecomer to the pitch, but couldn’t be reached. Freeman was cut and roster shop BBDO, Chicago, dropped out last week. A decision is due as early as this week.
Bates USA, New York
More is at stake for the $1.5 billion agency than at first might meet the eye. The shop’s recent new business results have been lackluster, and a win would help quiet naysayers who’ve speculated that the agency is for sale and is not growing organically, as its CEO claims. The shop has a mixed record record with Allied, winning the $40 million Ballantine’s Scotch Whiskey account for overseas markets in a shootout last fall, but losing Beefeater gin. Bates is using its big guns on the relatively small account, with North America chief executive Bill Whitehead leading the pitch with new worldwide creative director John Fawcett.

Weiss Stagliano Partners, New York
If it’s all about relationships, then Weiss Stagliano is on good footing: The agency, with billings of about $85 million, already handles three ultra-premium Sauza brands (Triada, Galardon and Tres Generaciones) and Allied’s Courvoisier cognac. Its principals have known Sauza chief marketing officer Paul Block from his time at Guinness Bass Import–Weiss Stagliano’s largest client. (Guinness parent Diageo might make Allied’s brass uncomfortable, however.) The shop was also a finalist in the 1994 review that Cliff Freeman won and doubtless sees the pitch as a chance to consolidate unfinished business, so to speak. On the downside, this shop can’t nearly match Bates’ global service network; it also lost out on pitches for Beefeater and Canadian Club to larger networks last fall.