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dot-comedy

1 As the Internet economy continues to struggle, the impact on the local marketplace has been twofold. Some mainstream agencies have seen dot-com clients fold, but the carnage among the newly minted Internet specialty shops has been nothing short of devastating.

Among the players with a regional presence, AnswerThink, iXL, Viant Corp. and Interpublic Group’s Zentropy Partners all cut staff. AnswerThink and iXL shuttered some of their New England operations.

Zentropy, formed through a union of IPG interactive holdings and initially helmed by John Connors III, son of Hill, Holliday chief executive Jack Connors, had been launched with much fanfare. Zentropy’s fall from grace, and the departure of the younger Connors as president of the unit for another post at the parent firm, was seen by some as especially disappointing.

Most observers believe the Web is still a viable sales vehicle for products and services of all kinds. Figuring out how to make money online, however, remains something of a mystery.

parlez vous, arnold?

2 The $2.1 billion sale of Arnold parent Snyder Communications to French firm Havas Advertising put Ed Eskandarian in the driver’s seat.

Proclaimed as the mergermeister for his past success at bringing disparate agencies into the Arnold fold, Eskandarian is now charged with helping Havas build a global presence and compete against larger holding companies such as IPG, Omnicom and WPP.

“This deal almost instantaneously gives us a worldwide network,” Eskandarian said. “It also offers the opportunity lost with Snyder when its currency was devalued to buy assets … and recruit new talent.”

Buys in New York and the Far East are planned in short order, Eskandarian has said, while the managerial baton of the lead shop in Boston has been handed over to Fran Kelly, who was named president, and chief creative officer Ron Lawner, who added the chairman’s title.

The Havas affiliation has already paid some dividends. Before the acquisition of Snyder had even been finalized, Arnold picked up the domestic advertising account of Paris-based telecommunications giant Alcatel, which already worked with an Havas agency in France.

Digitas takes stock

3 Digitas in March became the first Boston marketing company of note to make an initial public offering. Trading under the DTAS symbol on the Nasdaq exchange, the stock opened at $40, which would prove to be its 52-week high.

Despite numerous client wins and generally encouraging revenue increases, by year’s end the company once known as Bronner Slosberg Humphrey appeared to be caught in the general dot-com malaise. At press time, shares had fallen into the $6 range; vice chair Kathy Biro turned over the presidency of the company to chief operating officer Michael Ward, and chief financial officer Michael Goss had resigned.

The winner in all this appears to be founder Michael Bronner, who sold off most of his shares to San Francisco investment firm Hellman & Friedman Partners months before the IPO. Bronner came away $123 million richer and promptly launched Upromise, a brand loyalty program designed to help people save money for a college education. UPromise has, however, been slow to get up and running, and at least one lawsuit has been filed alleging that Bronner did not originate the idea.

Hill’s holiday

4 Change was the name of the game—in terms of people, accounts and campaigns—for Hill, Holliday. Fred Bertino resigned as president and chief creative officer to help launch the local office of Dallas-based Square One. Hill, Holliday named June Blocklin and Mike Sheehan co-presidents. Sheehan, also named chief creative officer, returned mid-year from DDB in Chicago, where he had been overseeing campaigns for McDonald’s.

Bill Heater, the shop’s brightest creative star a decade ago, came back to work on the $120 million Fidelity Investments account. Heater’s reappearance, sources have said, helped the agency salvage its often tempestuous relationship with Fidelity, which launched a major image campaign themed “See yourself succeeding.” TBWA\Chiat\Day Worldwide new-business director Ruth Ayres joined as chief marketing officer, replacing Brian Carty, who left for Wheelhouse Corp., an Internet marketing services firm.

Following a contentious review, Hill, Holliday won Lycos Network and in the fall broke a national campaign urging consumers to “dig deeper” into their interests via Lycos’ Web search capabilities. Efforts for John Hancock Financial Services and Dunkin’ Donuts were memorable, the former for an ad featuring a mildly controversial lesbian slant, the latter for its quirky “Loosen up a little” repositioning.

Hill, Holliday also gained a viable West Coast presence, merging with IPG sister Goldberg Moser O’Neill to form GMO/Hill, Holliday in San Francisco. The New York outpost got a boost, winning the $50 million in business from Verizon Wireless.

modernista! fills Gap

5 Few startups have hit the scene with as much fanfare as Modernista!, the Boston-based shop formed as the year began by Lance Jensen and Gary Koepke, former creative executives with Arnold and Wieden + Kennedy, respectively. Perhaps more importantly, the young agency has been living up to the hype.

Shortly after picking up assignments from The Travel Channel and MTV, Modernista! scored additional business from General Motors’ Hummer and the Gap. The latter tapped the firm for an estimated $10-15 million holiday push now on air. Four commercials, each with a different tagline, use evocative music and unexpected visuals—such as a party taking place inside a festive seasonal light—to tout the retailer as both hip and traditional.

mullen’s WILD RIDE

6In its first full year as a unit of Interpublic’s Lowe Group, Mullen produced some wildly mixed results. The agency seemed to spend much of 2000 either winning or losing major pieces of business.

Three of the Wenham, Mass.-based shop’s showpiece accounts, Monster.com, L.L. Bean and Swiss Army Brands, went elsewhere. Swiss Army, despite its high creative profile, was a relatively small spender. Monster.com and L.L. Bean, however, had combined budgets nearing nine figures. Following reviews, Monster.com selected Arnold, while L.L. Bean tapped Martin/Williams of Minneapolis.

On the plus side, Mullen added business from Coca-Cola, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Genuity, Mangosoft, Agere Systems and others. “This really reinforces how vibrant and strong and good the company [Mullen] is,” said agency chief creative officerEdward Boches on the heels of the $20-25 million Agere win. And Mullen chief executive Joe Grimaldi has maintained that year-end revenue will be up and, so far, the client losses have not precipitated any staffing cutbacks.

holland, maxxed-out

7 An era ended in September when TJX Cos. and Holland Mark Advertising announced a parting of the ways. TJX quickly reassigning $20-25 million in retail business, including its T.J. Maxx discount clothing chain, which was split between IPG shops Long Haymes Carr (creative, media planning) and Hill, Holliday (media buying) following a review.

T.J. Maxx had worked with Boston shop Ingalls for a quarter-century, moving to Holland Mark in 1999 following that agency’s purchase of Ingalls. Holland Mark cut 15-20 staffers, most of whom worked on TJX-related business.

weber rising

8 Larry Weber made strides within IPG in May when he was named chairman and CEO of its newly consolidated $1.3 billion Allied Services Group. The move put IPG in line with global competitors such as Omnicom Group, which has operated its Diversified Agency Services since 1986. Weber, who founded the Weber Group in 1987 as a two-person startup, in September was also named CEO of Weber Shandwick Worldwide, formed through the consolidation of public relations brands Weber Public Relations Worldwide and Shandwick International. Weber’s domain includes NFO Worldwide, a marketing research firm, Caribiner Communications, various sports and entertainment marketing firms and Golin/Harris International.

loss leaders

9 Several shops made headlines in 2000 for reasons they’d probably prefer to forget. Wickersham Hunt Schwantner, a direct marketing agency owned by Arnold, was battered by the defection of its leading accounts. The WSH name was scrapped, and the remaining clients and staff were brought back into the Arnold fold.

McKay Communications, Boston, a rising shop in the late 1990s, closed its doors amid legal entanglements. Stripped of its regional Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield business and unable to kickstart new-business efforts, O’Neal & Prelle of Hartford, a fixture on the Connecticut scene since 1934, ceased operations.

RDW Group, Providence, R.I., lost Amica, one of its flagship clients and largest pieces of business; KGA Advertising, Middletown, Conn., bid farewell to Bob’s Stores, its largest account.

Baiting the hook

10 Interactive media firm HookMedia this year expanded from its base in Boston to open satellites in New York and Atlanta. Hook now employs more than 100 staffers nationwide, up from about 20 a year ago. And while many interactive companies have been losing their groove, HookMedia has steadily added several clients a month, such as PricewaterhouseCoopers, EMC Corp., Hasbro, and Oxygen Media.

The firm also received $15 million in venture capital in March, which helped it add technology that the company claims will allow it to take on competitors such as Avenue A and Mediaplex.