VW’s Tim Ellis on the Deutsch/LA Selection

Volkswagen of America vp of marketing Tim Ellis reflects on the selection of Deutsch/LA as the brand’s new lead creative agency. Ellis, in an interview today with Adweek senior reporter Andrew McMains, also discussed the “incredible challenges” that Deutsch faces, why more clients are producing work out of pitches and the lack of consistency in campaigns from previous agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

Adweek: What set Deutsch apart from the other contenders?

Tim Ellis: They had a tremendous understanding of the automotive industry and the unique set of circumstances within the Volkswagen brand that will pose both great challenges and opportunities for us in the coming years. It’s an incredible complex business challenge.

How so?

There are the everyday challenges of managing a car account, which in itself is extremely difficult. You have the dynamics around working with our dealers, understanding the retail business as well as the brand-building side. You’ve got the rapidly evolving decision and purchasing process from a media perspective and understanding how digital is key to capturing in-market shoppers as well as impacting opinion in critical stages of [purchase] consideration. So, the challenge that we posed to all of these agencies was truly incredible. The economy has just collapsed, the industry has gone upside down and all the [changing] dynamics around financing have taken place, affecting our customers, our dealers. Then you look at Volkswagen. We have incredible challenges from both a brand and business perspective. In order to double our sales in what is increasingly a fierce competitive market, we have to evolve. While we have an incredibly strong, vibrant brand, we have to evolve the brand toward a broader base of potential customers without selling our soul. So, that’s not an easy task. 

How close was it between Goodby and Deutsch — was it a difficult decision?

It’s always a difficult decision because each and every one of the agencies had their strengths. Listen, if I think back on this process, it was a difficult decision just getting down from the long list. All of these agencies really wanted our business. They were all highly talented. I think we had the best of the best vying for this prize. Therefore, yes, it was a difficult decision. However, I will say that Deutsch just knocked it out of the park. They did that from the first day that we met them and they continued to prove that every single meeting that we had. . . . Ultimately, we judged them on how we felt about them throughout the process as well as their final presentation. We’re not hiring a campaign; we’re hiring an agency. Also, the Volkswagen challenge is more than just an advertising problem. It’s a business challenge. So, we had to ensure that the agency that we chose had ideas that we can leverage in all aspects of our business. 

How important were the work sessions in the selection process?

They were very important. Those work sessions were perhaps 30 percent of the entire evaluation. It allowed us to understand how they think, get a handle on the quality of their people, get a gut feel for what it would be like to work with them and gave us an understanding of how our cultures would mix. Also, we were able to play ideas off each other. 

What’s the likelihood that you’ll produce something out of Deutsch’s pitch?

I think it’s high. I know that’s rare.

Well, I’m finding these days that it is becoming more common. Why is that?

Agencies are working harder and clients are working harder. . . . Considering the unique set of circumstances we all find ourselves in right now, we as clients as well as the agencies are much more buttoned-up. We’re working much harder at delivering. So, I think that we’re probably better because we manage ourselves appropriately to brief [agencies] properly. Also . . . I continue to hear — not just from the agencies, but from lots of people — that I have one of the sharpest marketing teams in the industry. I say that not to brag. I say that because we’re only 19 people, but we have to do everything right.