Shop’s Closing Could Have Been Avoided, Former Employees Say
BOSTON–He brought his agency back from the brink twice before, but this time Bruce Leonard simply could not, or would not, do it again.
Even if he had been able to keep Leonard/Monahan afloat–and at least two former employees are convinced Leonard had the financial wherewithal to continue operations based on commitments from clients–the Providence, R.I., agency’s troubles had been building for years.
The shop’s small size, Rhode Island location and what sources and former employees described as Leonard’s inability to cede control caused a steady defection of partners that eventually crumbled its infrastructure. Leonard, who shuttered the shop two weeks ago, could not be reached for comment.
“Maybe in the latter years, Bruce might have been a little reluctant to relinquish the controls,” said Ernie Schenck, executive vice president and group creative director at Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos in Boston and former Leonard/Monahan partner. “He had [partners Kathleen Hall and Pam Hamlin and creative director Kara Goodrich], and had he been able to let go, sit back and run the place, I think it might have worked. But for whatever his reasons, he just didn’t.”
“An agency derives great strength from its partners,” said Fran Kelly, partner and client service director at Leonard/Monahan from 1989-94 and now chief marketing officer at Arnold Communications in Boston. “When key people leave on a regular basis, it’s hard to sustain momentum.”
Schenck claimed the moment that signaled the end was when co-founder Tom Monahan left to launch a business in 1991. “Tom Monahan was, for me, the soul of the agency,” Schenck said. “It’s pretty darn hard to remove that and have the same kind of energy and dynamic that you once had. Bruce is brilliant, but Monahan was the spirit.”
Each time adversity struck, Leonard/Monahan managed to defiantly struggle to its feet and reinvent itself. However, each reincarnation saw a slightly weaker firm.
In the past few years, Leonard/Monahan was a strong regional player, winning $1-5 million accounts but seemingly unable to sustain momentum. In 1986, the shop was named Adweek New England’s agency of the year–the smallest shop to wear the mantle–but its size, many believe, was its major downfall.
The final, crushing blow may have been the loss of Polaroid Corp.’s $5 million business imaging account, estimated by some former employees to be more than half the agency’s billings.
“It points to the vulnerability of being a small agency,” said Leonard/Monahan alum Bob Pagano, a senior vice president and group account director at Mullen in Wenham, Mass. “Critical mass today is absolutely key. I don’t think clients have the patience or the stomach for dealing with a smaller agency. The mentality is to make the quarterly numbers and do whatever it takes. The ‘leap of faith’ factor is something companies don’t have patience for.”
Both Kelly and Pagano noted that being a small agency in an out-of-the-way locale such as Providence made it difficult for Leonard/Monahan to attract and retain top-level talent. Some speculated that had Leonard/Monahan either moved to a larger market or joined forces with another agency, the shop may have increased its odds of surviving.
Former Leonard/Monahan creative director David Baldwin, now creative director at McKinney & Silver, Raleigh, N.C., believed Leonard’s staffers would have rallied around their leader had he decided to rebuild. “Bruce is a proud guy and maybe he just didn’t want to go through it again,” Baldwin said.
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