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Yamaha Drops Chiat/Day as Its Ad Agency : $6-Million Account Goes to Saatchi & Saatchi

Times Staff Writer

After an 11-year ride as Yamaha Motor Corp.'s advertising agency, Chiat/Day hit a brick wall on Wednesday.

Yamaha dropped the Venice ad firm and handed its estimated $6-million motorcycle account to the Torrance-based agency, Saatchi & Saatchi DFS. Saatchi--which creates advertising for Toyota--already handles advertising for Yamaha’s snowmobile division.

“Yamaha is going through changes,” said Ronald Crawford, assistant division manager at the Cypress-based maker of motorcycles, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles. “It’s not really a matter of changes at Chiat/Day.”

The announcement comes at a time when Chiat/Day seems to be having some growing pains. A year ago, it took on Nissan as a major client and doubled in size. Within the firm, there has been rapid growth, shifting responsibilities and departures. Last week, in fact, Southern California general manager Greg Helm, who oversaw the Yamaha account, left with two colleagues to form a new ad firm.

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But Crawford said it was not those changes or Helm’s departure that prompted Yamaha’s decision. The main reason was that Yamaha has decided to cut back considerably on the kind of national advertising that Chiat/Day specializes in and instead push for regional and local promotions, he said.

“We were no longer suited for them,” said Bob Wolf, president of the ad firm’s Venice office. “And they were no longer suited for us.” Indeed, over the last few years, Chiat/Day had lost several pieces of Yamaha’s advertising business to other local agencies, including Yamaha’s snowmobile and ATV ad accounts.

For Chiat/Day the financial loss may not be very significant. But there is probably a strong emotional tug in losing Yamaha, which was its first national advertising account.

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Yamaha hopes that Saatchi & Saatchi DFS will be better-suited for its bid to bolster its regional promotional efforts. Recently, for example, Saatchi set up a promotional program for Yamaha snowmobile dealers that featured special snowmobiling events. “The object is to generate as much floor traffic as possible,” said Nelson (Skip) Riddle, president of the Southern California division of the agency.

Several Los Angeles area ad executives said they are not surprised by Yamaha’s move.

Wins, Loses Business

“This sort of thing will happen after an agency picks up a very big piece of business,” said Robert Elen, president of the ad firm Robert Elen & Associates. “A client can either resent your growth or share in the glory of it. That’s up to them.”

Meanwhile, Chiat/Day seems unable to shake a reputation as an agency that attracts some of the nation’s biggest and most visible clients--but also loses them at a surprising pace. “Chiat/Day is brilliant at attracting new business,” said Steve Hayman, general manager of the Los Angeles office of the ad firm Foote, Cone & Belding. “But at the same time,” he added, “they also lose a significant amount of their business. I don’t know why.”

Yamaha also does not fault Chiat/Day for taking on the business last year of Nissan, a client with a $150-million ad budget. “Obviously, Nissan is a whole lot bigger than we are,” said Crawford. “But we didn’t feel slighted. Any client has to accept and understand that sort of thing.”


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