Shops Circle For Michelin’s Account

Michelin, an established brand in a less-than-sexy category, has captured the fancy of agencies of all shapes and sizes.

Executives at shops with billings ranging from $250-400 million to more than $1 billion have expressed interest in the $35 million account, even before the Greenville, S.C., client has hired a search consultant.

In fact, one intrepid new business director last week mailed relevant case histories to more than 30 prospective consultants. “I want to get into this one,” the executive said. Added another: “I definitely would love to be involved in Michelin.” Yet another source, when asked if his shop was pursuing the account, said, “Obviously,” adding, “everybody is interested.”

The account, which DDB has handled for 17 years, went into review after a long-running disagreement over strategy. DDB, which also handles the brand in five other countries, is not expected to defend.

For some agencies, the billings are sizable, which helps explain the account’s appeal. But the ardor with which agency executives discuss the brand suggests that other factors are at work.

First, it is a tangible product that is literally grounded in the real world, sources said. Translation: It’s not a dot-com. And with so many agencies and relatively few tire accounts, conflicts are rare.

Also, Michelin has displayed a penchant for buying work that transcends category clichés, such as close-ups of tires splashing through heavy rain, sources said.

The company’s longstanding use of the image of a baby next to a tire—once ridiculed by gearheads—has connected with safety-conscious consumers. In addition, this focus seems particularly astute in the context of Bridgestone/Firestone’s problems related to malfunctioning tires, a source said.

DDB’s most recent TV work featured a baby shower at which a tearful mom-to-be receives the gift of Michelin. “That was smart,” a source said. “That was very good.”

What’s more, sources point to the client’s longstanding relationship with DDB, which, regardless of its recent twists, is something of a rarity in today’s landscape of peripatetic clients.

Finally, the first two months of 2000 have been relatively quiet on the new-business front, further whetting the appetite of interested agencies. As one source said, “Nothing is happening right now.”

Meanwhile, consultants nationwide have showered Michelin with credentials packets in the past several weeks. Some filled out questionnaires, while others sent unsolicited information.

Michelin hopes to pick a consultant by March 9 and could act as early as this week, sources said. A client representative would not discuss a deadline, except to say, “We hope to have a consultant soon.”

In a consultant, Michelin is looking for someone who has managed automotive reviews before, who does not work for Goodyear or other rivals and appreciates the value of integrated marketing.

When the news of the review surfaced, the company indicated in a statement that it planned to “expand its marketing approach beyond pure mass communications to a highly integrated mass media and relationship-marketing strategy.”

Ironically, Michelin’s search begins as Goodyear considers four finalists for its $60 million account.