Spivak Steps in as Interim Creative Chief; Committees Formed
CHICAGO–A long-running battle between Euro RSCG Tatham’s two top executives over how to manage the shop led to chairman" data-categories = "" data-popup = "" data-ads = "Yes" data-company = "[]" data-outstream = "yes" data-auth = "" >




Spivak Steps in as Interim Creative Chief; Committees Formed
CHICAGO–A long-running battle between Euro RSCG Tatham’s two top executives over how to manage the shop led to chairman




Spivak Steps in as Interim Creative Chief; Committees Formed
CHICAGO–A long-running battle between Euro RSCG Tatham’s two top executives over how to manage the shop led to chairman and chief creative officer Bob Welke’s ouster last week, according to sources close to the agency.
Welke abruptly left the Chicago shop following a meeting last Tuesday with Gary Epstein, the agency’s president and chief executive officer.
“In that meeting, Bob and I determined that we had irreconcilable differences on a variety of issues, including the direction of Euro RSCG Tatham,” Epstein wrote in a memo to the staff.
Neither Epstein nor Welke would comment on the split. Sources said the two for months had disagreed over how best to improve the agency’s product and reputation.
Though still claiming billings of $400 million, the agency is a shadow of its former self. It’s done little in the past year to make up for $100 million billings lost when longtime clients Procter & Gamble and Hoover walked.
“What you have is an agency that’s kind of stalled in terms of progress,” said one former Tatham executive.
Tatham has enlisted a headhunter to search for a new creative chief. In the meantime, former
J. Walter Thompson worldwide chief creative officer Helayne Spivak has joined the agency as acting chief creative partner.
Epstein and Welke’s feud amounted to finger pointing over where Tatham’s problems lie, sources said. Epstein was dissatisfied with the quality of the creative while Welke felt the planning and new business team needed an overhaul.
Epstein was trying to dismantle the old-fashioned hierarchies and fiefdoms,” said one former Tatham executive. “Some people were more comfortable with that than others.”
The dispute was apparently months old, with both parties pleading their cases to superiors at Euro RSCG Worldwide’s New York offices, before Welke left the agency.
“It was a Gary Epstein power play,” one source said. “Welke was set up with account losses and lack of new business coming in.”
Bob Schmetterer, chairman and chief executive officer of Euro RSCG, was in Paris and could not be reached for comment.
Welke joined Tatham in 1996 after 19 years at Leo Burnett, where he was chief creative officer of Burnett U.S.A. Steve Dworin, then vice chairman of Euro RSCG Worldwide, recruited him to champion the agency’s creative product.
Welke, Epstein and former agency CEO Mary Baglivo portrayed themselves as an executive troika that would take Tatham into a new era. Baglivo left a few months after P&G pulled its $75 million business in February 1999. The Tatham executive the trio pushed aside, Ralph Rydholm, retired in May 1998. A key Rydholm client, Hoover, pulled its $25 million business last August.
Bringing in Spivak as interim creative chief was seen by observers as a way to smooth over the creative leadership gap with existing clients. According to Epstein’s memo, “Helayne is not coming here to reorganize the creative department, but rather to help me manage the transition, stimulate ideas, facilitate action and inspire us.”
Spivak resigned from JWT in 1997 and later filed a $13 million lawsuit claiming defamation and gender discrimination. a state Supreme Court verdict last month in effect rejected those claims [Adweek, Feb. 28]. Her lawyer plans to appeal.
Epstein worked with Spivak while he was group management director of Kraft Food North America at JWT Chicago. Epstein left JWT in 1996 to become a managing partner, director of new business at Tatham.
Shortly after Baglivo’s departure, Tatham introduced a new category setup for accounts and revealed a plan for an equity buyback from its French parent. Welke was to be part of the core group of partners who would buy back the agency’s stock from Havas Advertising.
Sources said the equity buyback plan is still in play but has been stalled since July.
It remains to be seen what impact Welke’s departure will have on the creative ranks at Tatham, which are heavily staffed with former Burnett employees brought in by Welke. There is a great deal of Welke loyalty among the former Burnetters, a source said. “That could be the ultimate fallout.”
Among the ex-Burnetters are Jennifer LeMay, Joe Gallo and Phil Gayter, who are among eight creative staffers appointed by Epstein to the agency’s executive committee in place of Welke. K