Pittsburgh’s Ketchum Up for Sale

EPB Among Suitors as 75-Year-Old Shop’s Omnicom Setup Fizzles
CHICAGO–Ketchum Advertising, hard-hit in the last year by account losses, is expected to have a new owner and name by the end of the month, officials at the agency said.
Ketchum, which has some $40 million in billings and is based in Pittsburgh, is now owned by Omnicom, and reports though the TBWA International network. But agency executives said the 3-year-old relationship with TBWA isn’t working.
Earle Palmer Brown, based in New York, is thought to be a leading candidate as a new owner. Officials at EPB confirmed the pair have held talks, saying the shops mesh on client service, creative and integrated marketing fronts, but declined further comment. Ketchum president Dave Egan declined to name any other suitors. “We’re looking at a number of possibilities,” he said.
The recent losses of founding client PNC Bank (a $10-15 million account) and Imation ($15-25 million), and a need for a “better strategic fit” have all contributed to the search for a new owner, Egan said.
Regardless, the agency is likely to drop the Ketchum name, which Omnicom is retaining to brand Ketchum Public Relations.
Omnicom and TBWA officials could not be reached for comment.
The Omnicom Group acquired the 75-year-old ad agency in 1996 when it bought its parent company, Ketchum Communications, which also includes Ketchum Public Relations and Ketchum Directory Advertising.
The agency was put under the auspices of TBWA International, but officials at Ketchum said the relationship never jelled.
“It hasn’t fit terribly well strategically for us,” Egan said. “We feel like we would be better served and be a more visible part of another organization.”
Both sides have reason to end the relationship: Agency sources said the shop received little help from the TBWA network in defending the PNC account; also, a Pittsburgh office did not fit with TBWA Worldwide chairman Lee Clow’s vision for the network.
A sale would not affect KDA or the Ketchum Public Relations, which are separate Omnicom entities, nor would it include Ketchum’s former San Francisco office, which has become a part of TBWA/Chiat/Day.
–with Kathleen Sampey