TORRANCE, May 9—Toyota Motor Sales USA has typically handled most of its public relations needs in-house, or used a roster of regional agencies to help out on a project basis. But now the Japanese automaker has engaged Marina del Ray consultant Jerry Swerling to help it find what it calls a “special projects” agency to bring “ a fresh perspective to our marketing programs,” says national public affairs manager Joe Tetherow.

“In recent years we have done pretty much everything in-house,” says Tetherow. “In the long history of Toyotal we have used some national agencies from time to time—we worked with Carl Byoir & Associates in the 70s—but recently we have done the bulk of the work in-house, with help from some smaller regional agencies.”

The selected firm won’t become agency of record for Toyota, but it will help out on a range of initiatives, bringing a fresh perspective to marketing programs and helping to build the Toyota brand image. It will also help the company target some specific target audiences, with a particular emphasis on the youth market. It may also get involved in new model introduction, although that won’t be a specific emphasis of the business, according to Tetherow.

“This is not so much a change as a progression,” he says. “The company is growing and there are a lot of opportunities we need to take advantage of in terms of using new media and targeting specific audiences.”
Tetherow expects to select the winning agency by June. He says he is considering both national and boutique firms—“we want to see everything that’s out there is terms of talent and creativity”—and that automotive experience “would be desirable, but it’s not necessary, because we are looking for outside-the-box thinking.” He says the winning agency will need to have an office in southern California, close to Toyota’s headquarters there.