Chicago Clients Blow in and Out of Publicis New York

Insufficient service, staff turnover and strong ties to J. Walter Thompson Chicago president Barry Krause led to OfficeMax’s abrupt decision last week to shift its $40 million account from Publicis New York to the WPP Group-owned JWT.

The move by the Cleveland-based retailer is the latest in a string of client defections that have occurred since Publicis closed its Chicago operations in October and moved the remaining personnel and accounts to New York.

At that time, major Chicago clients, including Ciba Vision, ATA, Whirlpool Corp., Principal Financial Group and OfficeMax, said that because they had been assured the quality of service would not change, they would make the move to the New York office.

Since then, three of those five have left the shop, representing a loss of about $100 million in billings, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

In addition to OfficeMax’s recent move, Ciba Vision, a unit of Novartis in Atlanta, in November awarded its $20 million account to Grey Worldwide in New York, following a global creative review. And in March, Indianapolis-based ATA left the New York office and took its $40 million account to Chicago startup Romani Bros., headed by Bernie Pitzel, who had a previous relationship with the airline.

Char-Broil, Columbus, Ga., was one client that immediately opted not to move to New York and consolidated its $5 million account with Euro RSCG Tatham Partners in Chicago.

Publicis USA chairman and CEO Susan Gianinno was not available for comment. A Publicis representative attributed the OfficeMax loss to the client’s ties to Krause, who, as CEO at Publicis in New York, was the top account person on OfficeMax. He left in February to join JWT Chicago.

The client is also said to have been dissatisfied with the service out of the New York office. And Krause said last week that OfficeMax CEO and co-founder Michael Feuer told him he did not feel he was getting appropriate attention from Publicis and was concerned with staff turnover on the account.

“It was never my intention to take the business when I came [to JWT],” Krause said. “But Mike said, ‘If you don’t take it, I’m going to put it into review.’ “

“The shift to JWT really has to do with the long-term relationship we built with Barry,” said an OfficeMax representative. “He was the primary architect of the ‘Max means more’ brand messaging.”

Krause claimed the decision to take on OfficeMax was an “isolated event” and he has no “strategy” to take more of his former clients to JWT. Executives at the two remaining major clients once serviced out of Chicago—$30 million Principal Financial and $60 million Whirlpool—said last week they do not plan to switch shops. “We will stick with them,” said Jeff Davidoff, director of marketing at Whirlpool, adding that the transition from Chicago to New York has been “good.” Said Principal Financial’s director of marketing Dave Wozniak: “We have no plans to follow Barry.”

As OfficeMax’s new agency, JWT will continue to follow the strategy Krause and his Publicis team mapped out when they originally won the account in March 2000. The Chicago agency plans to hire a supervisor in Cleveland to work on the account.

Despite the recent losses, the New York office has absorbed more than $350 million in billings from clients such as Procter & Gamble, Cadbury, Heineken and Amstel Light after parent Publicis Groupe closed sibling D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles. The office also stands to gain business from Publicis Groupe’s recent acquisition of more Allied Domecq work.