Art & Commerce: An Acquired Taste

After selling his agency, Neil Drossman ponders life in a new corporate culture Three months ago, our agency, Ryan Drossman & Partners, was acquired by MARC USA, a $400 million Pittsburgh-based agency with offices in Chicago, Dallas, Indianapolis, Miami and San Francisco.
I’m still holding my breath. When is the sword going to drop?
We had been in business for 10 years, seven as Ryan Drossman. In that time, we’ve spoken to more than a few suitors in an effort to compete on a larger scale and pay our bills (not necessarily in that order). Some just wanted to gobble us up. Some wanted Ryan or Drossman, but not both.
Naturally, a decision like this has caused considerable conversation, consternation, gnashing of teeth and swallowing of vodka–as the bartenders of Mesa Grille will attest.
But it’s even worse for me. I’ve been through it before.
Ten years ago, my partners and I sold our agency, Drossman Lehmann Marino, to CME, a Saatchi shop that served as a crash pad for so many clashing cultures, it looked like Prague.
It was so bad that, to this day, I’m still having knives surgically removed from my back. I actually had a good hip replaced just to get out of the office. Anything was better.
I guess there’s a wrong way to acquire agencies–and, hopefully, a right way, too. If there is, this could be it.
Since we went from Ryan Drossman & Partners to Ryan Drossman/MARC USA, here is what’s happened.
We’ve refined our systems. This is a euphemism. We had no systems.
We’ve added state-of-the-art equipment. Previously, our equipment was state of disaster.
We’ve added traffic people, account people, production people, creative people–and cubicles and chairs to hold them. Well, not all of them. But we’re working on that.
While we’ve just about doubled in size, we’ve more than doubled in billings. We’ve added five significant new accounts and, though we would have won some of them anyway, we certainly couldn’t have serviced them.
Here is what hasn’t happened.
Nobody has asked me to cut my facial hair, wear socks or clean my office.
No one has told us how to work or who to work with.
Management is still management.
Much of the credit goes to Tony Bucci, chairman and CEO of MARC USA, whose hands-off-more-than-on policy has allowed us to flourish.
How long will it last?
When will Tony Bucci, having digested New York, Boston, Seattle, Europe and Canada, rise from the table and start working on his new empire? Will the financial guys suddenly crawl out of the woodwork and take over? Will I have to get another hip operation?
At this point, there are more questions than answers. What name will we answer to? How do we present ourselves? Is it charismatic branding (ours) or power branding (MARC’s)?
OK, I’ll write power branding on the blackboard 100 times. Do we become what MARC is, or do we, working together, redefine MARC as an international advertising power? How do we preserve the vitality of the individual offices? It’s that vitality that will spark the best work. We’ve got to push each other to a higher level and learn from each other without becoming each other.
So far, so good. Who knows, this may actually be a good thing.
Neil Drossman is vice chairman and co-creative director at Ryan Drossman/MARC USA in New York.