BaylessCronin Looks to Bowen for ‘Extra Juice’

ATLANTA — Veteran ad executive Steve Bowen this week becomes the first president of struggling Omnicom agency BaylessCronin. His mission: turn around the shop’s flagging fortunes and keep its managing partners, creatives Tim Bayless and Jerry Cronin, under the Omnicom banner.

Bowen takes over a shop he knows quite a bit about already. Most recently, he was director of business development at Omnicom’s Merkley Newman Harty & Partners in New York. Although it has its own management, BaylessCronin operates as a subsidiary of Merkley.

BaylessCronin had partnered with Merkley on the $120 million BellSouth business; Merkley lost that account to Grey in December. “We realized we needed help last winter when we took a torpedo amidships,” said Bayless. “We had a meeting with [Tom Harrison, vice chairman and CEO of Omnicom’s Diversified Agency Services unit] and said, ‘Bring in someone to provide extra juice.’ “

What has been missing at the Atlanta shop, said Harrison, who oversaw Omnicom’s 1999 purchase of BaylessCronin, is strategic expertise and discipline-which Bowen, 58, an ex-Marine, and former president and chief operating officer of J. Walter Thompson U.S., is expected to provide.

“I can take talented people and give them an opportunity to be successful,” Bowen said. “We can only do that by building the strategic side better.”

“Steve has a head for this stuff,” said Cronin, whose creative credentials include work on Subaru and Nike while at Wieden + Kennedy. “We’re in danger of becoming a creative boutique.”

At Merkley, Bowen ran the BMW Motorcycles account. At JWT in the early 1980s, he was group account director on Burger King.

Bowen’s arrival also answers speculation that the shop might be shut down.

“There was never even a hint of closing down,” said Harrison, who compared the $50 million shop’s potential with that of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. “That would be asinine.”