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Search for New Draftfcb Boss Takes Hard Road

An outsider may be the best bet for realizing the potential of the merger

Laurence Boschetto has been Draftfcb's chief executive officer since 2009.

Draftfcb’s search for a new global CEO has only gotten harder.

Since parent company Interpublic Group began seeking candidates late last year, the agency has lost its grip on key brands like Oreo and Taco Bell, dismantled its media department and seen retail account Kmart launch a review. The agency also failed to reach the finals of Honda’s U.S. agency search.

In short, the top job looks even more difficult than it did a few months ago when IPG set out to find a successor to Laurence Boschetto, the agency’s CEO since 2009. Some believe it’s the hardest search in advertising right now. On a scale of one to 10, two agency CEOs ranked the degree of difficulty at nine, with one adding, “How they’re going to pull that together, I don’t know.”

Beyond the fundamentals of retaining and adding business, the new boss will face the ongoing challenge of realizing the potential of IPG’s 2006 merger of direct marketing specialist Draft and traditional ad agency Foote, Cone & Belding. Boschetto, 58, came from the Draft side of the fence, and the solution this time may be an outsider without ties to any camp.

“It’s important that the person not be a Draft, FCB or Interpublic person,” said Paul Gumbinner, a New York recruiter who’s not involved in the search. “They need to bring in someone who is totally objective and comes in with an iron glove to make the changes that need to be done.”

No insiders are among the two candidates IPG and Draftfcb are currently eyeing, according to sources. So don’t expect a return of Howard Draft, the CEO before Boschetto and current executive chairman. Instead, Draft will continue to maintain ties to key accounts, including Beiersdorf, said sources.

In the view of many, the merger was essentially a takeover of FCB by Draft. While Draftfcb denies that, subsequent events undermine the credibility of the agency’s advertising chops. The loss of work from longtime FCB clients like SC Johnson, MillerCoors and Kraft have hit the agency hard while new business wins have largely been digital, direct or pharmaceutical assignments. “There are two potential issues [in finding a new CEO]: the perception of the Draftfcb brand and its above-the-line capabilities,” said one agency observer.

Although Draftfcb’s media accounts and staffers are shifting to other IPG shops, Interpublic remains bullish about the agency’s hybrid offering. Indeed, in the CEO search, integrated communications skills and multinational client experience are must-haves in the eyes of the parent.

Big picture, IPG needs a sizeable worldwide network after McCann Erickson. As such, Draftfcb, which has a strong presence in India, Brazil and South Africa, is not expected to reduce its footprint.

An IPG representative declined comment on search specifics other than to say: “The process is well under way, and we hope to have a resolution in the coming months.” 

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