They were headquartered in the same building anyway, so Asher & Partners and Italia/Gal's idea to merge was convenient as well as timely.
The combined L.A. agency, dubbed Asher/Gal & Partners, will be led by Ken Gal, 43, who will serve as president and CEO, titles he held at Italia/Gal. Asher co-founder Hal Asher, 64, becomes chairman of the new shop.
Italia/Gal was founded in 1988. Asher has run various L.A. agencies bearing his name for more than 30 years.
Asher apparently spoke to a number of shops before striking the deal. Gal said the union wasn't prompted by Asher's recent loss of the Suzuki automotive and California Department of Health Services anti-tobacco accounts--worth about $55 million combined. Before the losses, Asher reported billings of $128 million. Italia/Gal claimed $50 million.
"I wouldn't want to do this deal if I didn't think this team was buoyant," said Gal.
Asher chief creative officer Bruce Dundore, who remains a partner along with top Asher executives Darryl Asher, Leah Mitchell, Barry Schoenfeld and Christine Steele, said Asher/Gal will continue handling retail and branding work in addition to social marketing accounts.
The merger coincides with the departure of Asher president/CEO Joel Hochberg, who will serve as a consultant and plans to open his own consultancy. Other staff changes are likely, although it is unclear how extensive they will be.
The new retail-oriented entity, combining Italia/ Gal's marketing strengths with Asher's creative talents, hopes to compete with larger local shops. Combined, it claims billings above $100 million.
Asher, which will work on Suzuki and CDHS through August, was also recently cut from the estimated $40 million California Office of Family Planning review.
Asher's accounts include the California Children and Families Commission, the L.A. County and state of Oregon anti-smoking initiatives, PayMyBills.com and the Western division of Enterprise Rent-a-Car.
Italia/Gal brings such clients as Shakey's Pizza, BBQ's Galore, Dunn-Edwards paint, Whole Foods Markets and Westfield Shoppingtownes.