NEW YORK–The problems facing Lintas: New York as it now struggles to hold on to its $25-40-million IBM Personal Computer Co. business serve to emphas" data-categories = "" data-popup = "" data-ads = "Yes" data-company = "[]" data-outstream = "yes" >

As ill winds blow, Lintas seeks to right itself By Cathy Taylo

NEW YORK–The problems facing Lintas: New York as it now struggles to hold on to its $25-40-million IBM Personal Computer Co. business serve to emphas

It’s not as though the Interpublic Group shop hasn’t been trying to right itself. Its continuing problems have come about despite major changes in the New York office in the last several years. A new troika of executives– Tony Miller, who used to head the agency’s successful MacLaren:Lintas operation in Toronto; F. Stone Roberts, the office’s president; and executive vp/ chief creative officer Tony DeGregorio–have run the office since 1991. In September of 1992, the office underwent a restructuring into interdisciplinary Client Business Units (CBUs) meant to be small, entrepreneurial agencies within an agency. The system has helped with some clients, particularly Johnson & Johnson and Maybelline. Yet others, such as IBM and Diet Coke, each going through brand identity crises of their own, have continued to founder. The loss of another mega-brand, Mastercard, in August 1992, served as a catalyst for the CBU operating structure. (Ironically, the shop won a silver Effie at last week’s ceremonies honoring ad effectiveness. The entry was submitted by the client.)
Lintas executives defend their track record and their efforts at making Lintas more than just another big, lumbering agency. “The frustration of IBM is that it detracts from the very real progress that we’ve made in so many areas,” Miller said last week. He went on to note that the shop has replaced the revenues it lost when MasterCard walked and that its reel has improved. “The overall client attitude towards our work is extremely positive.”
Yet many people familiar with the shop are quick to point to numerous signs that Lintas hasn’t yet put its house in order, particularly in creative where DeGregorio has held the top post since 1991. The charge? That DeGregorio, who can be a polarizing individual, has concentrated so much on Diet Coke that he may not be giving the agency the broad creative leadership it needs. His concentration on Diet Coke appears to be twofold, driven on the one hand by IPG’s well-known problems with its cornerstone client. On the other hand there are problems generated by his own desire to be the creator of a winning campaign, people familiar with the situation said. The best evidence of this is that he has rafted to hire a senior creative to take over day-today on the account–a spot that has been vacant for two years. Last week, Miller said he couldn’t discuss reports that the shop is about to hire creatives to bolster the account.
Meanwhile, DeGregorio’s gamble hasn’t exactly paid off. While his “Just for the Taste of It” campaign, starring Paula Abdul, Elton John and the latest special effects, appeared to have been a relative success, “Taste It All” has disappeared from the airwaves during the vital summer season without a trace, leaving DeGregorio and his associates to retool the campaign. Coca-Cola executives have been publicly supportive of Lintas characterizing the situation as “Much ado about nothing.”
Meanwhile, other creative trouble spots, ranging from Lipton to Molson have emerged. The situation is so bad, Lintas insiders say, that they fully expect Lintas to search for a DeGregorio replacement in the next few months. “There’s no question that Tony’s talents have been diverted by (former client) MasterCard and throughout by Diet Coke,” Miller admitted. However, he said that DeGregorio’s position was secure. De Gregorio could not be reached.
Now the question becomes whether Lintas can rally quickly enough to save the crown jewel of its vast IBM business. The shop may have let pass a legitimate opportunity to please the client when talks fell through with creative Ken Segall. He is a well-regarded computer vet who had worked at Lord, Geller, Federico, Einstein with IBM PC Co. vp/ communications C. Ray Freeman for a period in the 1980s. Miller played down the significance of this event and perhaps rightly so. With Lintas already at work on a PC company relaunch campaign, the Segall plan would have been designed to help Lintas after the relaunch campaign was completed.
Strangely enough, the talks fell through over Segall’s interest in creating what on the face of it looked like an elite, computer-focused CBU–similar to the kind of discrete unit Steve Hayden established for Apple when he and the account first moved to BBDO/ West. Lintas executives’ refusal to grant that sort of autonomy were among the factors that caused the deal to fall through. Miller said that agency and client mutually agreed not to pursue it.
Now, as Lintas tries to retain the IBM PC business it also has to deal with a simple twist of fate as well. Lintas must accomplish the task without Kevin O’Neill, the agency’s IBM group executive vp/group creative director who was forced to take a temporary leave several months ago for medical reasons.
It will be a significant challenge for a shop that has had difficulty in handling crisis, but Miller stands by the structure of Lintas under the new system, with very few caveats. “I think we’ve got the vision right,” he said.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)