Delta Talking to Burnett, TBWA

Meetings Could Mean Part or All of Airline’s Account Is in Play
NEW YORK–Delta Air Lines confirmed it is talking to agencies about its ad account, currently at Saatchi & Saatchi. The shops are thought to be TBWA Worldwide and Leo Burnett, according to sources.
Informal meetings have occurred, and the Atlanta-based airline is expected to brief the shops within a week, sources said. It’s unclear what part–or if all–of the business is in play.
“Delta basically talks with various agencies in the normal course of business and, in that, we respect the confidentially of those discussions,” said Martin White, vice president of consumer marketing at Delta.
White said it would be “inaccurate” to say a full-scale review was under way.
Both Burnett and TBWA/C/D declined comment.
Saatchi, which landed what was billed as a $100 million account in March 1997, isn’t participating in the talks, and is taking a wait-and-see approach. The New York shop is developing a long-term branding strategy for Delta, having dropped its “On top of the world” tagline earlier this year.
“We will do anything. We would absolutely want to maintain our partnership with this client,” said Jennifer Laing, the agency’s chairman and chief executive for North America.
Media duties are handled by Zenith Media in New York.
Word of the talks surfaced as Delta continues to assess all outside relationships. The client last week shifted to Bronnercom in Boston about $20-30 million of its direct and database marketing business, previously split between The Lacek Group, Minneapolis, and Rapp Collins Worldwide, New York.
In the past two years, Delta’s management has undergone a sea change of sorts, beginning with the arrival of president and chief executive officer Leo Mullin, and more recently with changes in its marketing ranks. White, formerly of USAirways, arrived in November after Frederick Reid, a former Continental Airlines executive, was named executive vice president and chief marketing officer.
Following the launch of a global image TV spot in 1997, Saatchi’s efforts have been largely tactical and regional. Its most recent TV work was a 30-second spot that touted Delta’s nonstop service to Boston. That followed a print and radio campaign introducing a new type of business class called Business Elite.
Media spending is down in recent years, from a high of $70 million in 1996 to $45 million last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting. The client spent $11 million in the first quarter of 1999.
Leo Burnett’s Chicago office handled United for 31 years before the account shifted to Fallon McElligott and Young & Rubicam in 1996. Burnett’s Stockholm, Sweden, office earlier this month landed Scandanavian Airlines Services’ $13 million global account. It was not clear if this would present a conflict.
Delta’s meetings with TBWA have involved agency CEO Michael Greenlees and executives from New York, Los Angeles and London, sources said. The California office of TBWA/Chiat/Day pitched the United business three years ago.
Thus far, the talks have been casual, and Delta has not specified what it’s looking for, sources said. “It seems like they are trying to test-drive an agency review before they do a real review,” one source said.
–with T.W. Siebert and David Gianatasi