Art & Commerce: The Weakest Link

Now that Bozell is being folded into FCB, the once-global agency is the runt of TN’s litter
Rarely do we get to witness such a remarkably blatant public admission as when True North announced it would fold Bozell, at least the best parts, into sister shop Foote, Cone & Belding a few weeks back.
As with any news story, we dutifully examined the press release, happily interviewed the usual suspects and diligently took copious notes along the way. Sometimes, we even nodded politely at the endless, but inevitable, rhetoric.
To their credit, the parties involved were well-prepared and quick to remind us of the many benefits FCB would reap from the “realignment.” For example, there’s the immediate boost in strength, size and clout from the addition of Bozell’s overseas offices. Then there’s the plum Chrysler account that joins the FCB family from Bozell in Detroit, while the Costa Mesa, Calif., outpost brings its Taco Bell business.
OK, I get it. Even I can do the math.
I’m not convinced, however, that there are benefits for TN’s other agency brand. It was explained that Bozell, which now operates five offices in the U.S. and none abroad, “will continue as one of the premier agency brands in the country.” Really?
Maybe I’m missing something here, but the last time I checked, the future of a domestic shop wasn’t bright. Most are forced to sell to larger concerns to gain the global resources their clients can’t live without. Bozell had that; now it doesn’t.
Any shop in this situation better be a damn fine creative one to survive and prosper. I think we all agree Bozell isn’t.
Basically, the move is a confession that the powers at TN don’t feel Bozell is a viable global network. Isn’t it telling that this so-called “initiative” is being implemented by David Bell, who spent many years at Bozell before ascending to TN?
True, you can’t fault TN for trying to strengthen FCB. But I can’t help thinking of Bozell as the proverbial sacrificial lamb.
Said one CEO: “If TN puts real resources behind FCB, it has a chance to build a real international network. But what they also did is dismember Bozell and leave it to die a slow and painful death. They didn’t even have the decency to give it a proper burial.”
Another befuddled CEO served up a Greek tragedy analogy, likening TN’s move to the mother who kills off her weaker son.
I’m wondering what the clients and staffers are thinking at the remaining Bozell offices. If I was a client, I’d feel like I’d been left with a Thanksgiving turkey that had been picked clean. They certainly did not hire the agency that Bozell has now become.
And what about the employees? They didn’t sign up for this, either. I’m sure some joined with visions of moving into a worldwide position eventually. Anyone who harbors those career aspirations will have to realize them elsewhere.
And how do you recruit for a decimated Bozell? What is the agency’s reason for being? If you’re not particularly big, creative, different or good, there is no competitive edge. You’re just the runt of the litter.
Maybe it’s time for TN to come clean: Sometimes, less isn’t more.