Hyundai Execs in Korea Wrest Control With Review

Hyundai Motor Co.’s estimated $450 million-plus global media review is part of a power play by the automaker’s Korean marketing executives to grab control of the account, and may lead to a creative review as well, according to sources.

The search—launched despite big sales gains—was initiated by several Korean executives, including executive coordinator Kenny Han, sources said. The decision came “without the knowledge or consent of the American staff [at Hyundai]. They were shocked,” one executive said.

Presentations began last week at Hyundai’s Seoul headquarters.

In addition, the car maker is currently seeking an executive to direct worldwide marketing, product and brand strategy out of Seoul.

“While they are looking to have someone in Seoul working the company’s strategic direction, it could get down to the level of creative execution,” a source speculated.

The consolidation was initially thought to be confined to the U.S., where the company spent nearly $150 million in 2000. The Hyundai Dealer Association spent another $95 million, per CMR. But sources said the client has told contenders it is reviewing all its media business world wide.

At least three media agencies are contending: Carat USA, CIA Media network USA and Horizon Media, all New York, sources said. Two of those shops might have conflicts. Carat handles several automotive brands overseas, including Fiat and Renault, and CIA is in the process of merging with Lincoln-Mercury’s media agency, The Media Edge.

Incumbent Bates USA West, Irvine, Calif., has been lead agency for creative and media since the car maker began distributing in the U.S. in 1986. Bates also handles the advertising in more than 20 other countries.

Bates would not comment, but sources said the agency was blindsided by the news. It is unclear if the agency will be asked to defend. Hyundai officials did not return calls.

For the first eight months of 2001, Hyundai had sales of 230,306 units, a 35 percent increase over the comparable period in 2000, per J.D. Power and Associates.