The Ins and Outs of Subaru’s Review

NEW YORK AAR Partners’ announcement last month that three agencies had reached the final round of the review for creative chores on Subaru of America’s $165 million ad account initiated a chain of events in which past relationships and client connections led to the reinstatement of McCann Erickson and Berlin Cameron/Red Cell, and precipitated the withdrawal of Omnicom Group’s GSD&M, sources said.

When the original contenders list was revealed on July 22, it was quickly recalled and Subaru blamed a “miscommunication” with AAR for leading to the distribution of a list that was incomplete.

One source said Subaru executive vice president Fred Adcock, who had not attended any of the presentations, but who is a key decision maker, wanted between four and six agency finalists. Instead, the client’s executive search committee had given AAR a list of three before they had a final meeting with Adcock for approval, sources said.

As several bounced agencies tried to figure out a way to get back in, client executives, including Adcock, revisited the presentations from the semifinalists: Interpublic Group-owned incumbent TM Advertising in Irving, Texas; WPP Group’s Berlin Cameron/Red Cell in New York; MDC Partners’ Colle + McVoy in Minneapolis; independent Cramer-Krasselt in Chicago; IPG’s Foote Cone & Belding and siblings Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos and McCann Erickson, all New York; and MDC’s Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners in New York.

Sources said it was that review that resulted in the addition of two agencies. Others said connections were the key factor.

It is believed that IPG’s McCann in New York made its case to Adcock. McCann’s sibling and Subaru incumbent TM, which reports into McCann, and because of that, McCann executives had a direct line to Adcock to lobby for reinstatement, sources said.

And a close relationship between WPP’s Berlin Cameron and Tokyo’s ADK, which is 20 percent owned by WPP, was a factor in getting the shop back into the finals, one source said. ADK handles advertising for Subaru parent Fuji Heavy Industries.

Six days after the original three contenders were announced, the client released a new list that included Berlin Cameron and McCann. Adcock could not be reached for comment.

Subaru representative Mike Whelan last week confirmed that question and answer sessions begin this week between the client and four agency finalists that include Omnicom’s DDB in New York and IPG’s The Martin Agency in Richmond, Va. Those two shops and GSD&M were the original finalists announced on July 22 by New York consultancy AAR.

Whelan said he did not know if any of the agencies took specific steps to get back into the review. He reiterated that a miscommunication between Subaru and AAR resulted in “a premature announcement of the list” on July 22. AAR could not be reached for comment.

GSD&M, which is also a contender for Kia, pulled out of Subaru’s review on July 29, one day after Berlin Cameron and McCann had been reinstated and the same day it learned it was a semifinalist in the Kia competition.

One source said GSD&M executives “felt like the rules of the review had changed. They thought they’d have a better chance with Kia.”

GSD&M executives could not be reached for comment.

Executives at both McCann and Berlin Cameron were unavailable for comment.

Subaru briefed the four finalists two weeks ago. The client wants each to come up with a launch plan for next year’s introduction of its 2006 SUV, as yet unnamed, sources said. The goal is to position the vehicle as a premium brand while retaining the “anti-status” core values of Subaru, sources said [Adweek, Aug. 9].

Final presentations are set for late September.