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What if they called a $50-million review and nobody came? You’re right . . . unthinkable. Then how about a $50-million review a

Now that’s almost believable. That, in fact, is what Pep Boys pulled off when the auto parts-and-repair chain, unbeknownst to the review’s losers and even its winner, announced its account was being assigned to Ayer.
Even Ayer’s surprise is understandable. Like other review participants, the winner received an unsolicited call some weeks ago to submit a reel. Then, barely two weeks later, it was summoned to Pep Boys headquarters in Philadelphia. Its expectation was to be certified a survivor of the initial paring – not handed the account.
The losers found the process to be less involving and even more mystifying. All they did, several report, was submit a reel. ‘We didn’t see it as a review at all,’ volunteers Greg Helm of Stein Robaire Helm, the hot Los Angeles shop. ‘We thought it was a refresh-our-files type of request.’ Dave Luhr, the director of account services at Wieden & Kennedy, admits to knowing a review had begun but not to knowing it had ended until last week, when he learned of Ayer’s triumph in The Wall Street Journal.
The newsbreak, which quoted the victorious agency as being ‘dumbfounded,’ identified Wieden & Kennedy and Stein Robaire Helm, along with Austin-based GSD&M, as losers. Not mentioned were Bloom FCA!, Cliff Freeman and Partners and Deutsch/Dworin – agencies that reportedly (and maybe unwittingly) also participated in a review so efficient several of its participants deemed it ‘invisible.’
But did any of the losers begrudge Pep Boys’ behavior? ‘We didn’t feel slighted in the least,’ Helm says. ‘If only all reviews were this easy . . . more like outpatient surgery instead of your typical hospital stay.’ Adds Luhr: ‘I respect what they did. They didn’t waste time, and they made their choice on the strength of agency reels.’
The applause gets even louder the further it’s removed. Veterans of the new-business chase are especially elated, some imbuing the Pep Boys’ review with more hope than experience should allow.
‘Wouldn’t it be great if this starts taking us back to when we didn’t have to create work just to win the account, when we didn’t have to give the store away,’ enthuses one of the crustiest new-business chasers in advertising, who, despite the strength of his conviction, asked for anonymity. ‘I mean, a law firm doesn’t have to plead the case before it gets retained. And accounting firms don’t have to audit a prospect’s books before picking up a new client.’
The Pep Boys’ sense of dispatch also piqued the interest of such perennial realists as Ed McCabe. ‘To expect to find a knowledgeable, right-thinking person on the client side these days,’ he says, ‘is almost like believing in Santa Claus. To me, this is driven home every time I hear of yet another advertiser conducting a review. Why do they need a review? Shouldn’t they know whether or not their agency is doing a good or bad job? Shouldn’t they know who might be able to do a better job for them without these costly and wasteful processes? Of course they should. But the sad truth is, they don’t.
‘This is driven home to me even more forcefully whenever the review is being handled by a consultant. To me, it is tantamount to an announcement, ‘We know not what we do.’ ‘
To expect such unusual and enlightened behavior from the client formerly fronted by Manny, Moe & Jack is, to say the least, a stretch. Never mind the company’s lingering iconography. Pep Boys, for the past two years, has been with Admarketing – the Los Angeles agency described in ADWEEK’s most recent Report Card as ‘a one-message shop: ‘We can get it for you cheaper.’ ‘ Before Admarketing, the client was without an agency for at least a year, having dumped the Detroit office of J. Walter Thompson – unceremoniously, some say – after only the briefest of honeymoons.
Accounting for the change is Pep Boys ceo Mitchell Leibovitz, who worked his way to the top after joining as a division controller 14 years ago. Leibovitz gets high marks for avoiding and exploiting last summer’s scandal in the auto-service division of competitor Sears, and even higher marks for boosting productivity, in an otherwise staid business, in Pep Boys’ 350 stores.
The leader knows not only his business but also the image he wants it to project. That’s why he felt compelled to bring only two associates into the review, and even then all he did was send them packing with a bagful of reels. The review was simplified by the team’s discovery, once it re-assembled, that the first choice of each member was Ayer.
‘What else did they need to know?’ asks McCabe. ‘Any speculative work they might have asked for would have been created under unreasonable conditions and by people who wouldn’t be working on the account anyway.’
Or, as McCabe might have said, all that was left was the formal introduction: Ayer, meet Santa Claus.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)