Saatchi’s Toyota Moves

Joe Cronin, worldwide account director on Toyota at Saatchi & Saatchi, has created a new position to provide big-picture and strategic marketing advice to Toyota dealer associations.

Earl King, former management director on the shop’s Greater New York dealer account, has been named chief marketing officer for the region. King, 46, oversaw that business-which encompasses dealers in Southern New York, Southern Connecticut and Northern New Jersey-for about 14 years.

Succeeding him is Kevin Honey, 40, a former account field director on Oldsmobile at Leo Burnett.

At Burnett, Honey ran a field office in New York and was responsible for 28 market areas in the Northeast. He and King report to Cronin.

The moves come as the agency and client dismiss talk of discord in their relationship. In the U.S., Saatchi handles ad duties on the Japanese carmaker’s factory account and several dealer accounts. (Worldwide, Toyota is the network’s largest client and accounts for the most revenue, along with Procter & Gamble). Sister shop Team One works on Lexus.

Based on the size and scope of the relationship, “it’s impossible” to expect everyone to be satisfied all the time, Cronin said. Still, he insisted that the relationship, which dates back more than 25 years, is strong, particularly where it counts: at the highest levels of each company.

Toyota and Saatchi are “business as usual,” said Steve Sturm, vp of marketing at Toyota Motor Sales USA in Torrance, Calif. “We are actively involved with launching the 2002 model year.”

In fact, Saatchi & Saatchi in Los Angeles last week broke new national work for Toyota Motor Sales. One print and broadcast campaign, tagged, “Welcome to our world,” promotes Toyota’s commitment to the CART FedEx Championship Series with highlights of Toyota’s cars, racers and teams.

And a new TV spot for the Camry Solara sport coupe takes viewers through a car chase in Spain. After slamming recklessly into various vehicles, the driver of a small, beat-up European car carefully inches past a shiny red Camry Solara. The commercial features the line, “The Camry Solara. Yeah, it’s that nice.” The total Toyota Motor Sales ad budget in the U.S. is roughly $550 million annually, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

As chief marketing officer, King will focus on four accounts, Greater New York, Upstate New York, Connecticut and Tristate (including Southern New Jersey, Delaware and Philadelphia), Cronin said. Collective billings on those accounts are an estimated $70 million, or about a third of the $200 million Toyota spent on all dealer ads last year, per CMR.

In creating the job, Cronin hopes to “get out in front of everybody” in terms of marketing strategy, which often varies slightly between dealer groups. The move was triggered by the dealers, who are “looking to be more marketers than just advertisers,” he added.

King’s mission: Make sure Saatchi uses the right messages and media to reach Toyota’s consumer target, said Cronin. For example, he will look at tools such as the Web to see how dealers can better connect with car buyers.

As for Honey, a one-time General Motors executive, Cronin said he was impressed by his “quiet confidence.” Honey is a “results-oriented person” who “knows the auto business, knows the ad business and has got this air about him,” said Cronin. “The first time I met him, I knew he was the right guy.”

Honey spent two years at Burnett, which is now winding down its relationship with Oldsmobile, following GM’s decision to discontinue the brand. He held several jobs at GM, where he worked for 13 years. His last position was regional training consultant.