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Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

If not, perhaps you’d better learn. Because New York agency Deutsch Inc. is very serious about raising its profile in Los Angeles and if it succeeds in winning the Mazda North American Operations advertising account currently in review, it could rocket to one of the top 10 agencies in town in a very big hurry.

Deutsch opened a satellite office in Santa Monica in 1995 and made a splash almost immediately, creating an award-winning campaign for Buzz magazine (remember those “Topless Traffic School” billboards?) that attracted lots of attention even in ad-weary Los Angeles.

With less than 10 employees last year, the agency has already grown to 40. If it should win the gigantic Mazda account, worth an estimated $250 million in annual billings, that number will at least double and might even triple (although Deutsch officials say work on the account would be split between New York and Santa Monica).

Deutsch is one of four finalists for Mazda, the other local candidate being the L.A. office of Ogilvy & Mather. A decision is expected soon perhaps as soon as this week.

Deutsch was also a finalist last year for the $120 million Acura account, but lost out to West L.A.-based Suissa Miller Advertising Inc.

“The Acura people said afterward, ‘Your main base is in New York, we wanted people down the block.’ So we decided it was time to make a major investment out (in Los Angeles),” said agency Chief Executive Donny Deutsch.

Part of that investment includes the two men hired earlier this month to run the Santa Monica office, both of them snatched from the Marina del Rey office of Fattal & Collins. Michael Sheldon was named chief executive for Deutsch L.A., and Eric Hirschberg will serve as executive creative director.

Both have experience working on automotive accounts, although Deutsch says that’s not why they were hired. Sheldon ran the national Infiniti account while working at TBWA Chiat/Day Inc., and also worked on the Nissan account there.

“Plus I grew up in Detroit, so I kind of have cars in my blood,” Sheldon said.

Even if Deutsch ends up a bridesmaid again on Mazda, chances are good that the agency will already be bigger when Sheldon and Hirschberg take over in October than it is now. Its parent growing quickly, and the L.A. office is in a number of big reviews including those for America West Airlines Inc. and SmarTalk TeleServices Inc.

Donny Deutsch says his goal is to bring the L.A. operation up to $200 million to $300 million in billings within the next few years.

United Way gets tough

Non-profits traditionally have three weapons for convincing people to pry open their pocketbooks and give:

They can focus on how good it feels to do good. Or on how much the recipients, or the community, will benefit from the contribution. Or they can push the guilt button.

The United Way of Greater Los Angeles has, for the most part, concentrated its past marketing efforts on the feel-good stuff and it hasn’t worked worth a darn.

Angelenos are notoriously tight-fisted. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Los Angeles tied for 48th place with Long Beach on a list of charitable giving in the 50 biggest cities in the nation.

Those Angelenos who do give to the United Way tend to give less than people in most other cities; per capita giving to the United Way in Los Angeles averaged $5.91 last year. Atlanta residents contributed an average of $20.14 per capita to the organization. And there are a lot more rich people here than in Atlanta, Ted Turner notwithstanding.

As a result, the local United Way is taking away the carrot and getting out the stick.

A campaign breaking this week in radio, billboards and print from Santa Monica-based Fraser/Young is a radical departure from past United Way advertising efforts.

“What this town needs are compassion implants,” reads one billboard. “You’re an actor. How about acting like you care,” says a magazine ad slated to run in the Hollywood trade papers.

The radio spots are even more cutting: “Hey L.A., it’s your conscience again. Have you ever thought about the word ‘apathetic?’ Well, what’s really interesting about it is, inside the word ‘apathetic’ is the word ‘pathetic.’ And, inside the word ‘cynical’ is the word ‘sin’ …”

Not all the ads are this harsh. “Get in touch with your inner philanthropist” reads one piece of L.A.-speak, or “One non-fat double latte could buy a toddler milk for a month.”

“The campaign was designed to wake Southern California up, to make people get in touch with their guilt,” said Renee Fraser, president of Fraser/Young.

With a Ph.D. in psychology, Fraser knows a lot about guilt. And she’s not very worried that the sarcastic, confrontational tone of some of the ads might turn off potential givers.

“I don’t see a danger of that,” she said. “I think the only danger is in continuing to spend money on advertising that nobody notices.”

Phelps gets technical

That guy on the cover of Inc. magazine’s just-released annual technology issue who looks like he’s about to take the U.S.S. Enterprise into battle with The Borg is Joe Phelps, chief executive of the Phelps Group in Brentwood.

“My mom will love it,” said Phelps about the cover, in which the black-clad CEO is shown perched on a command chair with a laptop and a 24th century hairdo.

Phelps’ integrated marketing agency, by the way, is preparing to move into a new office the company recently purchased in Santa Monica. The interior is being redesigned to comply with Phelps’ open-office philosophy.

“There’s not going to be a 90-degree angle in the place,” he said.

News Editor Dan Turner writes a weekly marketing column for the Los Angeles Business Journal.

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