Congratulations, you've just been named CEO of one of Madison Avenue's best-known agency brands. Unfortunately, it's the floundering Wells BDDP. And it's in play. Again.
Steve Davis will have to forgive people if that is how they view his new assignment. Or if they suspect that his mission is to be the one to finally turn the lights off in the perhaps mortally wounded office.
During his negotiations with GGT Group for the Wells job, he watched the Procter & Gamble relationship with Wells erode until the agency was unceremoniously dumped, saw GGT's stock price tank as a result and viewed Omnicom's bid that put the holding company in play. Timing is everything.
So that brings us to the most-often-asked question of last week. "What is Steve Davis thinking?"
True, the Wells situation was not as dire when Davis was approached by GGT, and some may understand why he felt he could make a difference. P&G was still in the fold, and Davis knew the client from his Benton & Bowles days. That's when he met Wells' president Bill Perkins. His last gig as president of Young & Rubicam, New York, did not work out, but Davis' run at J. Walter Thompson, Chicago, lasted six years, during which time the office grew from $402 million in billings in 1990 to $530 million.
Like so many others who have become involved with Wells since Mary Wells Lawrence sold the place to BDDP, Davis cites the legacy of Wells Rich Greene as the reason he ultimately took the job, even after the shop took a turn for the worse. "There is a great brand name to be rebuilt. It has a great tradition of making great advertising," he said.
What makes Davis' position more precarious is that his contract with GGT does not guarantee he has a job with Omnicom if that deal goes through. Omnicom was not publicly in the picture when he was matched with GGT by a headhunter. So, like so many others involved with BDDP lately, he found himself in for a surprise.
Cynics will say he took the first job offered him, given that his no-compete deal with Y&R expired Jan. 18. Davis counters he had two other offers, one in the agency business and one outside.
One Wells alumnus, Saatchi & Saatchi's Ed Wax, understands the Wells allure. "It was a great place. It was frenetic, but it was magic," he recalls of his days working for Mary Wells. "She turned the world on its butt, winning all these major pieces of business, including Procter."
Today, Wells is a far cry from those glory days. Most of the key players are gone, save Charlie Moss and Stan Dragoti. One of Davis' first tasks will be to fire staff. He also must calm the remaining clients, especially Heineken. That may go for naught if Omnicom acquires GGT, because it would create a conflict with Anheuser-Busch.
For Davis' sake, one hopes he can prove his worth to whoever acquires GGT. Otherwise, he'll be just another soul whose career and reputation are smashed on the rocks, lured by the siren song of Mary's legacy.
Davis says his friends quip about his new job, "Either I'm the only one with the balls or the lack of common sense to do it." Time will tell.