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Capital One Balks at Transition

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NEW YORK -- Differences over creative direction and a lack of communication about the transition of its account from D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles to Publicis in New York prompted Capital One to contact search consultants in recent weeks, sources said.

"We're doing some due diligence in an attempt to get to know our new partner," said Pam Girardo, a client representative [Adweek Online, Oct. 29]. "[Search consultants] can give you an independent perspective on the agency you've got. Publicis is a new partner for us, and we want to get to know them."

After word leaked and the client acknowledged consultants were in the picture, Capital One told those firms their services would not be needed. Sources said the client has now reached out to other consultants.

Last Wednesday, D'Arcy CEO John Farrell, chief branding officer Susan Gianinno and D'Arcy New York general manager Cory Basso flew to Washington for a patch-up dinner with Bill McDonald, evp, brand marketing, and other executives of the Falls Church, Va., client, sources said. It could not immediately be determined if the meeting was successful, but a D'Arcy executive said the agency is now helping the client "get to know Publicis better."

Farrell and Gianinno did not return calls.

Capital One, which spent $170 million in measured media in 2001, has been at D'Arcy since 1999. The company has credited the advertising tagged "What's in your wallet?" with helping to build its brand, sources said. The special-effects-heavy campaign has featured Visigoths, monsters and snowmen running amok to show the dangers of credit-card debt.

But within the past six months, D'Arcy's creative teams, led by worldwide chief creative officer Lee Garfinkel, have been trying to get Capital One to "tell the story smarter and more simply," though the agency had been unable to sell it on a new approach, sources said.

The company has also felt underserved and wanted more creative teams to work on the retail-heavy account, sources said. "This client wants big, showy commercials that are expensive to produce," said one source. "They want to be Pepsi."

Garfinkel could not be reached. It is believed that tensions came to a head when Publicis Groupe SA acquired D'Arcy in September and decided to fold the latter agency. Sources said Capital One learned of Publicis CEO Maurice Levy's plans to dissolve D'Arcy through press reports and in the ensuing weeks, Publicis neglected to provide details to the client of the account's transition.

Capital One executives could not be reached.

As part of the transition, Gianinno has been named CEO of Publicis in the U.S., but Farrell only recently accepted the worldwide CEO slot for Publicis Specialized Agency Marketing Services, sources said. Garfinkel is still negotiating with Publicis and is expected to fly to France this week to meet with Levy. Sources said Garfinkel not only has the Heineken account in his pocket, but also that he is well-liked by Procter & Gamble.