In Indianapolis, Life After Bates

After several years of seeing Bates Midwest’s profits go into the “bottomless pit” of its parent company, Dan Roman expects his Indianapolis agency to start adding staff and services as a newly formed unit of J. Walter Thompson.

Roman remains chairman of the shop, renamed Roman Brandgroup and now a wholly owned unit of WPP Group’s JWT. Roman reports to JWT’s worldwide chief financial officer, Lewis Trencher.

WPP has been sorting out Bates Worldwide’s assets since buying the network’s holding company, Cordiant Communications Group, in July. Bates Southwest in Houston was folded into Brouillard Communications; the Atlanta office’s fate remains undecided.

With about $60 million in billings, Roman’s shop is among Indianapolis’ biggest, and its consistent growth led WPP to decide the agency could work as a standalone. “He has a very successful and growing business,” a JWT rep said. “Why would we tamper with success?”

“It’s extremely difficult to operate in a Midwest environment, in a secondary market, if you’re set up like a worldwide ad agency,” said Roman. “We’re working in an economy that is entrepreneurial and smaller in size.”

The shop is forecasting that billings will rise 10 percent this year, from clients that include ITT Educational Services, Cinergy and the Indiana Lottery. Profits were eaten up in the last few years as Bates struggled, Roman said. “Bates’ balance sheet has killed us,” he said.

Roman said he now has more leeway to invest in the shop and plans to add staff, recruiting executives from outside the market, and offer a wider range of consulting services. “The small companies that come to us are looking for business advice,” Roman said.