With marquee clients Monster.com and L.L. Bean last week calling agency reviews, Mullen is facing its first major time of trial since the agency's sale last year to the Interpublic Group of Cos.
"There's no crisis of confidence," said Joe Grimaldi, president and chief executive officer of the 400-person agency in Wenham, Mass.
"We're not de-lighted" that the clients placed their accounts in review, Grimaldi conceded. "It's a series of events in the life of ... the company. We know [sometimes] we are going to lose business. I take a long-term view of Mullen, not a short-term view," Grimaldi said.
He took pains to downplay the potential significance of losing Monster.com and L.L. Bean. "The financial impact of these things are dramatically different than what they would appear to be on the surface," Grimaldi said. "Layoffs are not a consideration."
Industry observers, however, said perception may be somewhat more significant than the bottom line. Monster.com and L.L. Bean are leading consumer brands, and their respective decisions to seek new agencies can only serve to undermine Mullen's credibility as the agency looks to compete for national accounts, sources said.
"You don't want to lose those names from the client roster," said Bill Montbleau, an industry consultant in Burlington, Mass.
At press time on Friday, the agency remained a finalist, along with D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York, for the $25 million account of Goldman Sachs, a review being overseen by Pile and Co., Boston. Pile is also managing the searches for Internet job-search provider Monster.com, Maynard, Mass., and catalog retailer L.L. Bean of Freeport, Maine.
"We came to an agreement to mutually end our relationship" with L.L. Bean, Grimaldi said. Bean spends $15-20 million on ads. Mullen will defend the $75-90 million Monster.com account.
"We have quadrupled the size of our business, and our needs have expanded far beyond the original scope," said Monster.com chief executive Jeff Taylor. "We have encouraged Mullen to add the depth and resources of The Lowe Group," the entity through which Mullen re-ports in to corporate parent IPG.
Lowe Lintas & Partners, Syndey, already handles Monster.com in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. One source close to the situation said Lowe Lintas & Partners, New York, has been invited to pitch the account but will likely go it alone rather than team up Mullen. Asked about pitching with Lowe, Grimaldi said, "I don't want to reveal how we strategize."
Saatchi & Saatchi, London, recently picked up Monster.com's pan-European assignment, and Saatchi's office in New York has been invited to pitch the domestic portion of the account, sources said. Saatchi and Lowe Lintas executives declined comment. Pile and Co. officials said initial contenders for both Monster.com and L.L. Bean have not been finalized.
Mullen's first work for Mon-ster.com, which debuted on the 1999 Super Bowl and featured kids discussing jobs they might have when they grow up, was well-received.
This year's "Work. Life. Possibilities" campaign included Robert Frost poetry and one execution with a schoolgirl levitating above a city street. That effort was viewed as a misstep by Monster.com management, as competitors such as HotJobs.com, also in the midst of a review, and FreeAgent.com continue to increase their recognition in the marketplace, sources said.
Mullen has overcome challenges before. In 1995, it lost BMW and Timberland but bounced back in the late 1990s, more than doubling its billings to the current $400-million level.