It’s Not Goodbye

NEW YORK While nearly every agency has a reunion story to tell, Interpublic Group’s Deutsch has been particularly adept at the art of reconnecting with lost clients. Three have returned in the past two years, including Snapple three weeks ago.

Deutsch did not invent the tactic. At the Mirren New Business Conference in New York in 2006, Kristen Cavallo of The Martin Agency stressed the importance of mining losses. Cavallo, director of business development at the IPG shop, said that its president, Mike Hughes, often wrote gracious letters to ex-clients as they were leaving, saying, “Do great things.” The efforts bore fruit, with ex-clients like Carfax returning to the agency in 2005 after two years at sister shop Lowe.

For other examples, think WPP’s Ogilvy & Mather and Motorola, independent The Richards Group and Hyundai, and WPP’s JWT and Diageo brands Bailey’s and Smirnoff Ice.

In 2006, Deutsch reclaimed both DirecTV and Ikea, two years and six years, respectively, after each client had exited. The latest example is Cadbury Schweppes Americas Beverages’ Snapple, which came back after four years at MDC Partners’ Cliff Freeman and Partners. This time the account will be handled by Deutsch/LA in Marina del Rey, Calif. The shop’s New York office had the business, from 1997 to 2004.

While the circumstances of each return are different, there’s a common theme: accounts that left for reasons other than business results — such as a change in marketing chiefs — have the potential to come back. Executives at several shops see former clients as better prospects than new clients, particularly since business can be won without an arduous or expensive pitch. “They’re all opportunities,” said a new business director at a New York shop, who added that mining relationships at past clients is always a “priority.”

Interestingly, Deutsch’s longtime new business leader, chief corporate strategy officer, Michael Duda, was only heavily involved in one of the comebacks — DirecTV. The reunion with Ikea was sparked by a letter that Deutsch CEO Linda Sawyer wrote to the client’s CEO after seeing a print ad featuring a grandmother sunbathing nude, according to Duda. Sawyer, the former longtime leader on the account, gave a point-by-point explanation why such ads didn’t befit the brand.

The Snapple opportunity grew out of Deutsch/LA’s relationship on sister brand Dr Pepper, which began in April. An early good showing on Dr Pepper got them into the Snapple pitch, in which Deutsch beat Cliff Freeman, WPP’s Young & Rubicam in San Francisco and independent Laird + Partners in New York.

“Business development is everyone’s job,” explained Duda. “A lot of it is based on the business relationships, not just what we’ve done for the brand.”