MDC Turns To Jarvis To Power Up C+M Creative

With its roster dominated by b-to-b clients, Colle+McVoy is unlike other, more consumer-oriented MDC Partners shops. Now, the holding company hopes a management shift at the agency—and new commitment to the creative department—will change that.

Last week, chief creative officer John Jarvis was named president, replacing Chuck Kushell, who had been in the post nearly three years and will now consult with Toronto-based MDC. Executives at the holding company said Jarvis’ creative background provided the foundation for the move, an attempt to bring C+M’s creative stature closer to that of MDC’s other shops.

“I think what MDC is interested in is creative cultures that creatives want to be in,” said Chuck Porter, Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s chairman and MDC’s chief strategist. “What we’re looking to do is create a culture that will foster creative thinking across all levels.”

Under Kushell, a former executive at Cliff Freeman and Partners and, more recently, Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, C+M in Minneapolis developed practices ranging from database marketing to crisis management. While the strategy helped the shop increase its revenue during a sluggish economy (C+M claimed $31 million in 2003, up 15 percent from 2001, when Kushell joined as president), Jarvis said the shop lost creative focus.

“It appealed to us from a business sense, but from a practical sense we are at heart an advertising agency,” Jarvis said. “It’s time for us as creative people to get back to that.”

About 40 percent of the shop’s revenue comes from below-the-line services, said Kushell, who will work with MDC to develop consulting and other marketing-services practices. The agency will continue existing below-the-line services such as public relations and database marketing but will not pursue new work in those areas as aggressively, Jarvis said.

A former Fallon group creative head who ran his own agency, Lynch Jarvis Jones, in the mid-1990s, Jarvis said he plans to make “significant upgrades” in the creative department, including the addition of a “strong No. 2” with consumer experience. Jarvis also will make the rounds with search consultants to make C+M better known.

“I think our future is more in the consumer side and building relationships; that’s where we’re going to make our reputation,” he said.

In 1999, C+M became the second U.S. shop acquired by MDC, then known as Maxxcom, after Margeotes|Fertitta + Partners. Since then, the company has picked up stakes in three creatively driven shops, CP+B (in 2001), Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners (February) and Cliff Freeman (March).

C+M has been trying to land a defining consumer client since Jarvis arrived as the top creative in May 2000. The change indicates MDC’s renewed commitment to make its shops more “like-minded,” putting creative as the lead driver for revenues, Porter said.

“I have a fairly narrow perspective, because what I understand is my agency,” said Porter. “Do great work, and people will reward you for it; that’s the only way I know how to build an agency.”