Mazda Believes in ‘Team’ Approach

As WPP Group creates Team Mazda, a new unit based in Southern California to handle all of Mazda North America’s marketing needs, it will seek to emulate the success of Team Detroit, its 4-year-old soup-to-nuts group dedicated primarily to Ford.

Equally relevant, however, in the mind of Don Romano, Mazda’s North American chief marketing officer, are the past failures of similar single-client holding-company units, including WPP’s stumbles with Enfatico for Dell. “You learn more from some of your mistakes than you do from your successes,” Romano said. “So, to me, it was important that they had gone through a learning process, that they had experienced both sides of this equation and knew what was working and what wasn’t working.”

Such is a key challenge facing WPP: how to apply hard lessons to ensure the latest team setup lasts beyond the initial contract. Unlike other holding companies, WPP embraces the practice of building dedicated teams for pitches — either across existing agencies or by creating a new shop — which tends to appeal to clients that crave integration across disciplines and the efficiencies that come with it. But its lack of success with some clients illustrates the inherent difficulties of executing a concept that on paper often seems ideal.

And given the recent flux among automakers and their agencies, creating a dedicated unit around a car account seems riskier today than even just a year ago.

Creation of a team is part of “the WPP playbook, and a lot of people are skeptical about it,” said Russel Wohlwerth of Ark Advisors in Playa del Rey, Calif. “The question is, Will they deliver what they promise?”

Team Mazda will open in October with at least 100 staffers, a single profit-and-loss statement and its own leadership, according to George Rogers, president and CEO of Team Detroit and one of the engineers of the new outfit’s launch. Like Team Detroit, all disciplines will be represented, from traditional advertising and media planning and buying to digital marketing, direct marketing, public relations and analytics. Also like Team Detroit, whose headquarters is across the street from Ford in Dearborn, Mich., Team Mazda will be close to the client, which is based in Irvine, Calif.

Proximity was a mandate in the review that resulted in Mazda last month hiring WPP to replace longtime lead agency Doner in Southfield, Mich. A team of WPP shops bested an Omnicom team in the final round. Account revenue is estimated at $25 million.

“You just can’t communicate effectively with text [messaging] and telephone,” said Romano (pictured at right). “We called this whole concept ‘One throat to choke’ — our throat as well as theirs. They need to know who’s making the calls on our side. We need to know how the decisions are being made. It just wasn’t going to work as a long-distance relationship.”

Open, direct dialogue also has been central to the planning of Team Mazda, going back to the review, according to Romano. “The most important fundamental of a good relationship — whether it’s a personal relationship or business — is good communication right up front, understanding what the objectives are and what everybody is trying to achieve,” he said. “We felt we had that connection with WPP.”

The solid track record of Team Detroit, which integrated operations of JWT, Ogilvy & Mather, Young & Rubicam, Wunderman, Mindshare and Mediaedge:cia for WPP’s largest global client, gave Mazda executives the confidence that the holding company could build something similar for them, albeit on a smaller scale. (In the U.S. last year, Mazda’s major media spending totaled $150 million, compared to $750 million for Ford, according to Nielsen.)