Martin Agency Loses Saab to Swedish Sister Shop

The Martin Agency has lost the creative account of Saab Cars USA. The setback became public last Monday, just as the agency announced that 10 percent of its staff was being let go.

Saab’s creative work now passes to sister agency Lowe Brindfors in Stockholm, Sweden, part of the Lowe Group, a division of the Interpublic Group of Cos.

“We’ve been operating under two agencies,” said Kristi Smith, director of marketing for Saab Cars USA, a division of General Motors. “That’s not the best business process to be responsive to a changing market. We’re simplifying a business process.”

John Adams, chairman of the Richmond, Va., agency, stressed his shop was healthy. He insisted the Saab loss—estimated at $180 million in billings since 1997— was not linked to last Monday’s firing of some 40 staffers of the shop’s 415 employees.

“The layoffs had to do with a softness in billings resulting from the dot-com woes,” Adams said.

Martin has been rocked by an 18-month string of dot-com disasters. Two-thirds of some $200 million in estimated dot-com billings failed to materialize.

“We play a very conservative financial game,” said Adams. “[The cutbacks] have given us a staff precisely sized to fit the business that we have, plus enough excess capacity to mount a serious, ongoing new business effort.”

Adams and Smith confirmed that Martin, which created Saab’s “Versus” campaign, will continue to do media planning and buying, as well as direct and relationship marketing duties for Saab Cars USA. In 2000, U.S. sales of Saab cars were essentially on target, according to Smith.

“The Saab loss … is a question of centralization,” Adams said. “Sweden has centralized all work into a global campaign.”

Adams also denied rumors that Martin parent Lowe Group was stepping up efforts to merge his agency with another Interpublic shop, Suissa Miller in Los Angeles.

“We share with Lowe the interest in growing The Martin agency,” he said. “But we don’t do shotgun weddings.”