At Publicis, It Ain’t Easy Being Green

The Heineken transition has hit some bumps since the estimated $50-60 million U.S. account moved from D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles to Publicis in New York, sources said.

In the past two months, at least four staffers involved with the account have left the agency. Sources said worldwide account director Michael Silver’s perceived grip and authority over the account has also ruffled some feathers.

The latest defection is group creative director John Liegey, who resigned last week to become senior partner, creative director at Ogilvy & Mather in New York, working on American Express, sources said. Last month, Liegey’s partner, fellow gcd Steve Doppelt, left to become a creative director at Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners in New York, sources said.

Sources said Liegey and Doppelt, who both joined Publicis from D’Arcy, opted to look elsewhere after Publicis New York chief creative officer Peter Nicholson decided not to give them creative control over the Heineken account, doling out assignments instead to various teams.

Yimbo Ma and Mike Sullivan, the copywriter/art director team responsible for the current “News Clippings” print campaign, recently moved to DDB, reuniting with former D’Arcy creative chief Lee Garfinkel, who joined DDB instead of Publicis.

As for Silver, sources described him as a close friend of Heineken marketing chief Steve Davis, and that relationship has created what one source called a “dysfunctional” atmosphere on the account. Another called Silver’s relationship with Heineken “amazing.”

Neither Silver nor the four departed creatives returned calls seeking comment.

Silver has had a tight hold on the Heineken account since it was at Wells BDDP in the mid-1990s. As Wells was closing in 1998, Heineken launched a review, an unusual process by all accounts, in which Silver attended meetings between client executives and prospective agencies. And when the former Lowe & Partners/SMS won the account, Silver followed it, ostensibly at the client’s request.

When D’Arcy won Heineken in January 2002, Silver began negotiating with the agency to join shortly thereafter, sources said. However, a one-year noncompete clause with Lowe parent Interpublic Group prevented him from working on the business until this January, by which point it had moved to Publicis.

The internal churn at Publicis seemingly has not affected the relationship with Heineken, however. “Obviously, they’ve gone through a pretty major consolidation with the Publicis [merger] thing,” Davis said. “They’ve got a new creative team coming on board. … At this point, they are and continue to be our agency of record. When we decide it’s not working, we will decide what appropriate actions to take.”

The team Davis is referring to includes Nicholson; worldwide creative director David Droga, who is moving to New York next month; and executive creative directors Howard Willmott and Duncan Marshall, who are joining this week from Saatchi & Saatchi in London.

Nicholson said the agency is working “to ensure that we deliver the kind of breakthrough creative this client deserves … and must have to lead the category. … None of this should come as a surprise. Whenever there is a change at the top, it is inevitable that not everybody will be happy about it.”

Susan Gianinno, Publicis USA chairman and CEO, added, “Heineken is a very important client to us, as is every client. Michael Silver is the leader of that business, and he has my full support, and he’s partnering with Peter Nicholson creatively. I’m very happy with their partnership.”

Besides Heineken, Publicis’ New York office absorbed more than $300 million in billings from clients such as Procter & Gamble, Cadbury and Ernst & Young after parent Publicis Groupe closed D’Arcy at the end of January.