Q&A: Howard Draft

As Interpublic Group prepares to merge Draft and Foote Cone & Belding, Howard Draft readies for the challenge of his career. The chief executive of Draft in Chicago has been tapped as CEO of the soon-to-be combined entity, known as DraftFCB Group. Adweek editor Alison Fahey spoke to Draft about why the union makes sense and how he intends to build for the future.

Q: Why is this the right move for Draft and FCB, or IPG, for that matter?
A: First, they have international strength in a number of markets, so they really round us out. This is a modern solution. Clients have said to us they like the idea that they don’t need an army of agencies to get a complete above-the-line and below-the-line solution. They get everything at once and it’s best of class.

But FCB is not best in class creatively.
We’ll get there. I’ve told the creative guys go hire me the best ones. It’s a top priority. We have a 90-day period during which we’ll be figuring out our planning tools, how we are going to go to market, and then we will relaunch the company in the fall.

Why would this merger work where so many others have failed?

Because it’s not a merger of two advertising agencies; it’s a merger of complementary skills.

But FCB is not the strongest partner. Are you concerned that this is a merger of a struggling agency with yours?
FCB is a profitable, global agency. Now, they are not as global as they need to be. But this is not like taking a sick puppy and putting it in with Draft. Everything will be built around taking the best of what we have and the best of what they have to build a modern solution. I really believe that we are building something revolutionary here.

How do you plan to avoid the pitfalls of most mergers? Turf battles, egos, etc.?
The best way to avoid it is the [John] Wren philosophy: If you have a good person, you hug them and take care of them. If you have a good person doing a bad job, same thing. But if you have a bad person and he or she is doing a great job, that’s not someone you want around. I totally agree with Wren on this. I’m going to hug the good ones, and if people want to be political, I’m not the CEO for them.

How are the two companies similar?
FCB has a Midwest kind of “let’s roll up our sleeves and get it done” mentality and I really want to take advantage of that culture. But we will build a culture of fun, one that rewards people, celebrates success, deals with the issues in an open way.

What about the two big conflicts?

We are spending time addressing that now. It’s my No. 1 priority this week and next.

Why does Blamer have to leave to make this happen?
I think Steve came with a brilliant understanding of what [FCB] needed to be and he was selfless in his decision. I think he deserves credit for that. There can’t be two CEOs in this thing.

Would you bring back Brendan Ryan in a more active chairmanship?
Brendan is a good godfather and adviser to me, and [FCB creative chief] Jonathan Harries has been incredibly helpful. I may go to clients with Brendan, who knows? Clients love Brendan. If Brendan can help me, I’m going to use him. If anyone can help me, I’m going to use them.

How do you feel overall?
At peace. You know, I’ve been waiting for this. Remember that in 1996 when I bought myself. back from Cordiant, I could have gone to Saatchi. I chose to buy myself back and there’s been a lot of times I felt if we could get a general agency to be part of us that we [could] change the game.