Facing Heightened Competition, Harley-Davidson Reviews Its Agency Assignments

Seeks to rev up slow sales

Riding a rough road of sluggish sales and decreased demand, iconic motorcycle brand Harley-Davidson has issued requests for proposals in a review of its global agency needs.

In a brief statement, a company representative confirmed that the competition began last month. Creative, digital and media assignments are all up for grabs, with client officials contacting prospective participants "at a holding company level."

Harley is focused on "driving demand and growing our reach and impact with customers globally," and wishes "to ensure we have the most effective and efficient resources in place to support this work," according to the statement.

Of late, such resources have included creative boutique Victors & Spoils, media buyer and planner Starcom MediaVest Group and digital agency DigitasLBi. Reps at those shops either declined comment or could not immediately be reached.

The review follows the departure of chief marketing officer Mark-Hans Richer, an eight-year company veteran, who left in November. At that time, Harley Latin America chief Sean Cummings was promoted to senior vice president of global demand. In this role, he leads the Americas, EMEA and Asia-Pacific regional teams, with oversight for marketing, retail and sales operations.

Sources close to the process said Harley wants to double down on marketing in the face of heightened competition from Victory, Indian Motorcycle and others. Indeed, the company has said it would boost marketing spending by about 65 percent this year—though the overall level of media investment could not be determined. In the U.S., the client increased its ad spending last year, tallying more than $15 million for the first three quarters, nearly equaling its entire outlay for 2014, per Kantar Media.

"We expect a heightened competitive environment to continue for the foreseeable future, and now is the time for us to dial things up," Harley President and CEO Matt Levatich told analysts during an earnings call last October.

Moving forward, appealing to younger adults and women is likely paramount, as Harley looks to regain lost market share. In the U.S., Harley slipped to 52 percent in the third quarter compared to 56 percent a year ago. Earnings slid 6.5 percent in Q3. Global sales have been basically flat.