Looking for a fresh start after a rough couple of years, Lowe Worldwide is reintroducing itself as a shop that's creative, aggressive and more outwardly focused.
"You will see, over the next year or so, a different, more open, more competitive, more good-humored" agency, said worldwide CEO Jerry Judge, 51, who took the reins from Frank Lowe last summer. (Lowe retains the title of chairman.)
In a frank conversation last week, Judge and U.S. CEO Paul Ham mersley, 39, continued the process of talking to outsiders (including search consultants and the press) about the past and future of the agency. Seated inside Judge's corner office, which overlooks Midtown Manhattan, they were interrupted only once—by Lowe, who called from Europe to tease Judge about the recent failures of his favorite soccer team.
While Judge kept a relatively low profile in his previous role of worldwide president, he took the lead over the course of the discussion. "Lowe has been almost monastic in its attitude to doing outstanding work—we must not lose that," he said. "But at the same time, we can't be anything other than a living organism that changes to the world outside."
The two acknowledged that the agency's image needs some polishing. "We've come through a tough couple of years," said Hammersley. "And this is about reasserting ourselves and what we stand for. I think it's partially due to the times, partially due to Lowe growing up as a business and a brand, and partially just dealing with the circumstances in which we find ourselves."
The shop has taken several steps recently to redefine its image both to the outside world and to its staffers. With the new year, it has a new name (changed from Lowe Lintas & Partners), new mantras ("Stretch" in the U.S., "Creativity pays" globally) and even its first logo (a box containing the letters "LO" stacked over "WE," a twist on Robert Indiana's famous "Love" design).
In a sense, Judge and Hammersley are finally closing the book on the 1999 merger of Lowe & Partners and Ammirati Puris Lintas. Since then, the agency has sustained more than its share of client defections, layoffs and changes in upper management.
In 2001, the shop underwent several rounds of layoffs, resulting in a 22 percent reduction in staff from October 2000. And while Lowe recorded some big wins—most notably the $300 million consolidated account of Verizon Communications Services, as well as U.S. duties on the Saab, Mass Mutual and Diet Coke accounts—the agency lost three significant accounts: Sprite, UPS and Dell. In addition, due to dwindling business, Lowe had to close its office in San Francisco.
The shop also once more recast at the top, with the installation of Hammersley—who previously ran Lowe's London office—after the departure of CEO, chairman and chief creative officer Lee Garfinkel.
Going forward, Judge says, his goal is to shape an agency that's "not precious," a "bit less coy" and a "bit more feisty."