NEW YORK (Jan. 22, 2001)—When a company puts into place some new management, one result often is a review of the firm´s advertising agency.
But in the case of Goodyear—which is now inviting ad agencies to pitch for its $60 million North American tire account—the culprit was a marketing campaign gone awry during a presentation to a new top exec at the tire maker.
According to executives close to the situation who asked not to be named, the turning point in WPP Group-owned J. Walter Thompson Co.´s 15-year relationship with Goodyear came last month, when a trio of top executives from JWT had its first meeting with Robert Keegan, Goodyear´s president and chief operating officer since last October.
The meeting was a courtesy to Mr. Keegan, who hadn´t seen the proposed JWT campaign that had been developed at the request and with the blessings of his underlings. But at the meeting, the ad agency´s brass—President Peter Schweitzer, CEO Chris Jones and Executive Vice President Steve Brown—shot down their own campaign, citing research showing it would perform poorly for the tire brand.
JWT´s faux pas, according to the unnamed execs, was that it insulted Goodyear´s marketing team in front of their new boss. The Goodyear team at the meeting included Jim Vogel, vice president-sales and marketing since July; John Montgomery, director of marketing services; and Dave Lenox, advertising director. The latter two have been in their current jobs for about four months.
Mr. Keegan, the execs familiar with the situation reported, was said to have agreed with the JWT chieftains. That further embarrassed his own marketing team as well as the agency´s Goodyear team—ultimately leading to the review being called.
Mr. Keegan was traveling the week of Jan. 15 and was unavailable for comment.
JWT, which will try to defend its business with Goodyear, wouldn´t comment on the meeting.
"We´re very proud of the work and marketing initiatives we´ve done for them," said Mr. Brown, noting he is disappointed that the account is in review. Mr. Jones has since left JWT for unrelated health reasons and could not be reached for comment. Mr. Schweitzer, who will succeed him, was also unavailable for comment.
Goodyear´s Mr. Montgomery, speaking on behalf of the Goodyear group, declined to discuss details of the meeting with JWT, but said it had no impact on the decision to put the business up for review.
He cited as the reason for the review the tire maker´s relatively new North American management team that includes John Polhemus, president for the region. "We´re looking for some aggressive, new creative for the brand," Mr. Montgomery said. The Firestone tire recall that began last August "creates consumer awareness about tires and brands," he added. "We want to reinforce the message behind Goodyear and get a fresh perspective."
Goodyear invited a list of about a dozen ad agencies, compiled by Mr. Lenox with the help of an undisclosed third party, said Mr. Montgomery. Among the criteria used was an agency´s new-account win record.
He declined to name the agencies targeted by Goodyear. But they are said to include Omnicom Group´s New York-based BBDO Worldwide, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco, Austin, Texas-based GSD&M, TBWA/Chiat/Day in Playa del Rey, Calif; and Publicis Groupe´s Fallon in Minneapolis. Interpublic Group of Cos.´ New York-based McCann-Erickson Worldwide, which handles Goodyear outside North America, is also said to be pursuing the account.
JWT, Detroit, won Goodyear´s performance and motorsports´ account in late 1985. JWT, New York, also won the Goodyear brands that year but lost the North American portion in 1988 to Y&R Advertising, New York, although it retained the motorsports business. However, JWT, Detroit, won the branding account back in 1989.
JWT created the 1997 "Serious Freedom" campaign for Goodyear´s brand and tires, which is still used.
In October, Goodyear reported a net loss of $6.6 million on its worldwide business in the third quarter of 2000. But it posted $116.7 million in net income for the first three quarters of the year.
Sales for the nine-month period rose to $3.5 billion vs. $3.3 billion for the same period of 1999.
Sam Gibara, chairman and CEO, cited high raw material and energy costs for the third-quarter results. But he also said the Firestone recall generated a sales pace for Goodyear replacement tires that was four times the industry average in September.
"Our objective is for these consumers to remain Goodyear customers," he said.
Ms. Halliday writes for Advertising Age, a sister publication of Tire Business.