After 32 Years, Wells Has Run Dry

Following a Series of Missteps, Former Wells Rich Greene Calls It Quits
NEW YORK–Following the relocation of its few remaining clients last week, Wells BDDP said it will close its doors permanently on May 13.
The move finally lays to rest speculation surrounding the future of the once-venerable agency brand which had been floundering for years before entering a death spiral last summer. The low point came in January, when Procter & Gamble dumped the shop.
Wells’ new chief executive, Steve Davis, informed the 133 Wells staffers of the closing at 3:30 p.m. last Friday in “the Well,” the agency’s gathering place.
“It’s unfortunate that with the transfer of clients that such a great brand is no longer a viable company,” said John Wren, chief executive officer of Omnicom Group, whose acquisition of Wells parent GGT is a virtual fait accompli.
In anticipation of the agency’s closing, Wren, along with Michael Greenlees, chief executive of Wells parent GGT, and Davis have been working with the management of remaining clients, such as Toys R Us, Hertz and Georgia-Pacific, to find alternative agencies within the Omnicom family.
Hertz confirmed on Friday it intends to move its $50 million account into Omnicom’s DDB Needham, which is expected to absorb Moss/Dragoti, the Wells unit run by Charlie Moss and Stan Dragoti, which had been handling the account.
“We are lucky that some of the creative forces originally responsible for the success of Wells Rich Greene [such as Moss and Dragoti] will continue with us in other parts of the Omnicom family,” said Wren.
A representative for Atlanta-based G-P, meanwhile, confirmed that its estimated $25 million consumer paper products account, which Wells had won last fall, will be reassigned to Omnicom’s BBDO South in Atlanta. That move goes into effect immediately.
In a related move, The Kaplan Thaler Group was awarded the estimated $40-50 million creative account for Toys R Us. Chief executive Linda Kaplan Thaler, who had headed creative efforts for the client during her tenure as Wells’ executive creative director, confirmed the account switch.
Sources said Wells waived Kaplan Thaler’s noncompete contract clause with the agency, which was due to expire in July, paving the way for her to take the reins on Toys R Us immediately. Kaplan Thaler hopes to take on some Wells staffers to help service the account.
Omnicom has said it is working to relocate Wells staffers, including holding a “job fair” in mid-April involving the holding company’s various agencies. Minimum severance pay will be 16 weeks salary plus the two months staffers will be paid through the May 13 closing date. Other payouts will depend on length of service, but it is possible that many employees will receive a year’s pay.
“I’m sad at the news of Wells closing. Although I never met Mary Lawrence, she was an inspiration to me. A woman doing what she did in the ’60s and ’70s was unheard of,” said Kaplan Thaler.
Former Wells chief executive Ken Olshan said, “The past few months have been especially painful. It’s been like watching paramedics go over the body of a dying loved one.”
Olshan’s unceremonious firing in 1995 by BDDP, the French holding company that owned Wells at the time, was one of many flashpoints in the gradual demise of Wells.
The unraveling of the agency this year was a consequence of management strife surrounding deposed chief executive Frank Assumma and the mishandling of its bedrock Procter & Gamble client, which fired the agency and forced GGT into the arms of Omnicom after its share price plummeted.
1997 was a far cry from the salad days of the 1960s and 1970s, when the agency emerged as one of the most respected and flamboyant creative hotshops around, creating memorable campaigns for clients such as Alka-Seltzer. Founder Mary Wells Lawrence and her partners, Richard Rich and Stewart Greene, opened their doors on April 4, 1966, in temporary offices in the Gotham Hotel.
Many observers point to 1990 as the pivotal year that led to the agency’s demise, when Wells Lawrence, who could not be reached last week, gave up her chief executive post at the agency and sold to BDDP.