Shops Get Shot at Lexus Project

Lexus is looking to augment the advertising resources of Team One by seeking a shop to handle a project assignment for a long-term branding effort.

The Torrance, Calif.-based car maker confirmed last week that it has sent out RFPs to a select group of agencies that focus on brand building and strategic planning.

The company’s vice president of marketing, Mike Wells, said the search for a firm to handle the 12-18-month project is being conducted with the assistance of Team One.

While some agency observers see the initiative as a way to get a foot in the door of the account, the client stressed its satisfaction with its longtime agency. “We are happy with Team One and we are not about to replace them,” said Wells.

He declined to identify the companies contacted by Lexus or to indicate a timetable for the review.

“What we are doing is a 5-phase, 10-step brand-devel opment project that will attempt to get to the core of the Lexus brand,” said Wells. “Team One does a great job, but because of the magnitude of this initiative, we’re looking at a number of companies that have expertise in this area.”

Team One creative director Brian Sheehan bristled at the notion that the hunt for outside help portends a shift in the account.

“It’s not like they are looking for an ad agency. This is a brand initiative that will go to all aspects of the business,” he said.

Still, one observer added: “I don’t think Team One is on the brink of losing the account, but this is definitely a crack in the armor.”

For Team One, the stakes are high. The El Segundo-based shop, which had billings of about $323 million last year, was formed by Saatchi & Saatchi more than 12 years ago to focus specifically on the Lexus account. Saatchi has handled the Toyota account for more than 20 years; Lexus is owned by Toyota.

Although Team One also handles the local resturant Rubino’s Baja Grill and several other relatively small accounts, the bulk of its revenue comes from Lexus. The shop has been slow to diversify its roster.