Amid Crowds And Chaos, ML Rogers Sees ‘Fresh Air’

Opening on the fly on Feb. 2 following the abrupt demise of Wolf Group, ML Rogers scrambled to crank up its operation with only the bare necessities.

The New York independent shop was without telephones or reliable e-mail access during its first days. While the shop has since ironed out most of its logistical issues, the staff of 27 still doesn’t have much room to move in its interim Park Avenue headquarters, where president and ecd Mike Rogers shares an office with two other executives. The shop has taken on most of Wolf New York’s business, but until new space is obtained, the hectic air of a startup remains.

“I’ve nicknamed the creative office ‘the mosh pit,’ ” said Rogers. “We have six people in there, and the fact that they haven’t killed each other is amazing. Some wear double pairs of headphones … to give them some sort of quiet.”

Under financial duress, Toronto-based Wolf Group Integrated Communications closed its 50-person New York outpost, as well as its Toronto office, in January, and has since sold its Cleveland and Rochester, N.Y., offices to agency principals.

Rogers had resigned from the shop as it was collapsing and had started efforts to hold together a roster of clients with an estimated $120 million in combined billings. “There was zero time to contemplate the whole prospect of what had just happened and the challenges and risks of starting a new agency,” Rogers said. “We basically had to act.”

He went six-for-eight with Wolf’s clients, retaining CIT Group, Aamco, NASA, Canandaigua Wine Co., Wall Street Access and the $80 million Scotts Lawn Co. business, his key save. Merisant’s Equal account, worth $15 million, went into a review won by MDC Partners’ Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners. Spending for another client, Motts, had dwindled, and its fate could not be determined.

“We were informed that Wolf was shutting down on a Friday morning, and by Monday morning, Mike was up and running,” said Bill Burke, Scotts vp of marketing services. “Mike really made the transition seamless for us.”

Rogers’ most recent hires are two senior managers on Scotts: group director of planning Eric Hunter, formerly of Foote Cone & Belding, and group account director P.J. Lehrer, formerly of McCann Erickson, both of whom arrived in April. Rogers is now seeking to add creatives.

Rogers promised his clients that the same agency teams would work on their efforts as before, bringing the same look and strategy to the ads. For example, an estimated $10 million summer TV campaign for Arbor Mist draws on a concept developed by Wolf in which eager men compete for women’s attention and their Arbor Mist beverages. The client last month handed ML Rogers creative duties on its $5 million account for Alice White, an Australian wine.

Rogers plans to “selectively” pursue new business as soon as September. As for now, having his own shop has been a refreshing change of pace. “It’s kind of an awesome feeling when you’re in control of your own destiny,” he said. “It’s like fresh air and freedom.”