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Why DaVinci Is Still a Work in Progress

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NEW YORK It took five months and change, but WPP Group has finally succeeded in luring a leader to run the new agency it's building to service the global Dell account.

Last week, Torrence Boone, president of Digitas' Boston office, was named worldwide CEO for Project DaVinci.

So far, the recruiting process for DaVinci has been less than a work of art. The search for a CEO, during which WPP is said to have considered at least a half-dozen executives, illustrates the obstacles the holding company faces as it attempts to create a 1,000-person global shop from scratch.

Chief among those challenges is convincing potential candidates to buy into a strict diet of Dell. That focus around a single client is also seen by many to be a precarious situation for one's career. Plus, the absence of an established culture at the shop has complicated the recruiting process, said sources.

The hiring of Boone came two months after WPP missed its publically stated goal of having 1,000 staffers on board by March 1. As of last week, the head count hovered around 600. True, WPP CEO Martin Sorrell's goal, set in December, was ambitious, but the shortfall has many industry observers saying that working for DaVinci is a tough sell.

"Lack of a culture, lack of variety, lack of a career path. And then on top of all that, this specific client," said one executive of the recruiting issues. "It's not like you're talking IBM or Microsoft here, in terms of stature, intellectual firepower."

Eventually, the agency intends to pursue other clients, with the blessing of Dell vice president of global marketing Casey Jones, the central figure in the review last year that led to the Dec. 2 hiring of WPP. For now, however, the focus is on Dell, whose business generates an estimated $100 million in annual revenue.

Dell has a history of becoming restless, having worked with Lowe, DDB, BBDO and Mother since 2001, which leads some to wonder if the client will still be at WPP in three years, when an initial contract expires. "WPP is committed to it and Martin is committed to it. The question in my mind is, is Dell committed?" said one source.

Jones was not available for an interview last week, but a company representative addressed the questions about client commitment and agency recruitment.

"We have entered into this unique partnership and obviously have put in a lot of time and effort to help make this work," said corporate affairs manager Caroline Dietz. "We believe that simplifying the engagement process between agency and client is a critical element of how we do marketing and branding going into the future. There's no question that we're committed to the model."

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