Stone and O’Sullivan in the driver’s seat?

StopPress has heard from a reliable yet sneaky mole that Andrew Stone and Mike O’Sullivan’s new shop will be opening its doors shortly and, apparently, it won’t be too dissimilar from Assignment, with the two ex-Saatchi’s chaps planning on working with clients on strategy and creative and then outsourcing the grunt work to a pool of freelancers. But the big Fleetwood Mac is that the new shop might be opening its doors with a fairly big name on the roster: Toyota.

Toyota is currently with Saatchi & Saatchi, the pair’s old workplace. So Christmas dinners will probably be fairly awkward if the rumour is true. Although, maybe not: another weird aspect to the tale is that the reliable yet sneaky mole has heard Saatchi’s might actually have a stake in the pair’s new business.

Sonya Berrigan, the managing director of Saatchi & Saatchi, was fairly defensive about the whole situation and didn’t give anything away.

“More lies, untruths and stirring is it? I probably won’t have any comment,” she says.

And she was right. Kind of. She wasn’t saying anything about the new enterprise, whether Toyota was signing up with it or whether Saatchi’s was involved.

“I certainly don’t know anything about that.”

But she implied everything was alright and inferred the embattled car company will be sticking with the embattled agency, saying that Toyota is a very large international company with a global network relationship with Saatchi & Saatchi.

Neeraj Lala, Toyota’s general manager of marketing and product/pricing, has been in Auckland for the last few days “looking at how we’re going to move forward with the new team” a Saatchi’s. He met Nicky Bell for the first time last week and Dylan Harrison is due to come onboard next week. But he says Rocky isn’t in the mix.

“We’re extremely positive about the changes at Saatchi’s,” he says. And he’s also excited about the Toyota marketing team’s reshuffle, with Dave Rhodes-Robinson recently coming on board as marketing manager.

Lala says he met with Stone before Christmas and still has a personal relationship with him. He is aware of his plans to set up his own shop but at this stage he says he’s focusing on inspiring some collegiality with the existing marketing partners and doesn’t want to complicate matters with new additions to the agency base.

“He’s done a lot of good work for us,” he says. “There will always be dialogue. But we don’t even know what kind of shape the agency will take yet. I’m looking at bringing our marketing partners [Saatchis, AIM Proximity, TVNZ and Spyglass] together. I think we’ve got really strong partners . . .”

And he’s aiming big: he isn’t planning on bringing the smack down on any of the partners if one particular campaign fails. It’s more about improving the whole marketing package.

Lala says Toyota Australia splits its work between Saatchis and Mojo, but he says that’s not an option in New Zealand at the moment.

“We had some really good discussions [with the team at Saatchi’s]. We have a partnership, and as far as I’m concerned we’ve got no intention of changing that.”

Anyone would love to get their hands on the Toyota account. But it could be a pretty tough gig for the next wee while, what with all those faulty bits (8.5 million cars recalled since October and new concerns about the Corolla) and some apparently duplicitous goings on to hide the safety issues taking plenty of sheen off the previously quite sheeny Toyota name recently.

And look at all the news about it! Or, even better, look at the world’s most tedious man!

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