Can IPG Continue Its Juggling Act?

NEW YORK – Weeks after losing its battle to retain business from both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, Interpublic Group is facing another potentially troublesome conflict.

Sources said IPG could be forced to choose between longtime Foote, Cone & Belding client S.C. Johnson & Son, and its Reckitt Benckiser account at McCann-Erickson.

Both global accounts are worth about $300 million in billings. But family-run S.C. Johnson contributes significantly more revenue to IPG’s coffers. And after more than five decades at FCB, the client is so deeply entrenched at the agency that it could be expected to prevail over Reckitt Benckiser should IPG be forced to choose.

Sources said IPG chief John Dooner has been juggling the conflict since the holding company’s acquisition of True North’s FCB earlier this year, but that time is running out.

Over the summer, IPG believed it had presented a strong case

to Coke that “Chinese walls” had been put in place between McCann and FCB that would prevent a conflict, but in the end the emotional issues between such direct and longtime competitors could not be surmounted.

The same kind of issues might scuttle the coexistence of Reckitt Benckiser and S.C. Johnson under one holding company, sources said. McCann handles Reckitt Benckiser’s line of household products in 22 markets on five continents. Brands include Lysol cleansers, d-CON, Spray ‘n’ Wash, Woolite, Wizard and Old English furniture polish.

FCB handles creative for S.C. Johnson, including Pledge, Off insect repellents, Raid, Fantastik, Glade, Pledge, Windex and Shout.

Neither client acknowledged a problem last week.

“FCB is our agency and we are not aware of FCB having any conflicts,” said Cynthia Georgeson, director of corporate public affairs at S.C. Johnson.
Reached in London, Reckitt Benckiser representative Tom Corran said, “We remain with McCann and we’re happy with McCann. We have a certain amount of business in competition with S.C. Johnson. That’s a fact. But [conflicts are] an entirely different subject on which I am not competent to comment. We have not parted with McCann.”

A McCann representative said he was unaware of any talks between IPG and Reckitt Benckiser about conflicts.