Stunts and Second Thoughts Bates and Ammirati Get Back Into Continental Review

A pair of agencies that as of two weeks ago did not expect to participate in the Continental Airlines’ review has emerged as finalists.
One shop, Ammirati Puris Lintas in New York, reversed an earlier decision to forgo the invitation to pitch the $50 million account. “Upon further consideration, we decided that we couldn’t resist this opportunity,” said Martin Puris, Ammirati’s chief executive.
Sources said there is a bit more behind the decision: Ammirati is expecting to hear this week if it won the Air France account. Its Paris office is one of two finalists, with incumbent Euro RSCG Tatham. Should the agency win that business, it would be unable to solicit most other airlines.
The Continental and Air France accounts, however, might not pose a conflict. The two have a pending “code share” agreement that would allow both carriers to book passengers on each other’s flights.
With that in mind, Ammirati executives traveled to Houston to make their presentation on Friday, the last day of meetings between Continental and its other four contenders: N. W. Ayer & Partners, Ogilvy & Mather, TBWA Chiat/Day and U.S. incumbent The Richards Group, all in New York.
Last Thursday, however, Bates staged a colorful stunt after learning it had been cut from contention. Bates Southwest chairman Jerry Kerr and 60 staffers dressed in Bates T-shirts arrived at Continental’s headquarters with a 10-foot high float in the shape of a suitcase–complete with stickers from Bates’ offices around the world–and a banner reading “Let Bates Worldwide Take You to a Higher Plane.”
Continental chairman Gordon Bethune and president Greg Brenneman, already prepared for the visit by a deluge of faxes from various Bates’ offices, gave the agency an 11th hour nod to present on Tuesday.
Kerr handed Bethune a standard-sized briefcase containing a five-point “preflight” checklist touting Bates’ category experience and capabilities. “We found out we were not in the hunt and probably would never get in the hunt,” said Kerr. “So it got to the point where we had nothing to lose.”