Clients See Business in Good Hands as Katz Leaves BBDO

Bill Katz’s climb through the ranks of BBDO’s flagship office since 1981 mirrored the success of the clients he was close to, including Pepsi and Visa. Last week, however, while those two companies expressed admiration for Katz, neither seemed overly perturbed by his exit.

“Bill helped shape some of Pepsi’s greatest ad campaigns over the years,” Dave Burwick, chief marketing officer of Pepsi-Cola North America, said last week. “After moving to a larger role running BBDO’s New York office, he left our business in very capable hands.”

Becky Saeger, evp of brand marketing for Visa, an account that has been at the Omnicom Group agency since 1985, said last week, “Bill’s been there through thick and thin with Visa, and we’ll miss him. But we’ve gotten to know Andrew Robertson very well and have tremendous confidence in him.”

Katz’s increasing distance from clients—a process that began in 2001, when he was promoted from president to CEO of New York and Robertson arrived from AMV BBDO in London—was one of several factors that culminated in his departure last week, sources said.

Katz said last week he is leaving for the chance to do something different professionally.

Robertson, 43, arrived as North America CEO and heir apparent to worldwide CEO Allen Rosenshine. A consummate client steward, he set about solidifying his relationships with clients, especially Pepsi, Frito-Lay, FedEx and Visa. Katz became more involved in the nuts and bolts of running the $2.3 billion shop, which has 650 staffers.

Katz helped to land several big accounts, including Cingular Wireless, AOL and Office Depot, but his duties increasingly overlapped with Robertson’s. “With Andrew there, Bill’s role became less defined,” one source said.

Said another: “There will likely be a change in the way the office is managed, with Andrew appointing a person in the New York CEO role, than it was with someone in that position before he arrived.”

Robertson said in a statement last week that Katz, 49, would help manage the transition when his replacement is appointed, but the agency gave no timetable. “I will pick up Bill’s day-to-day responsibilities and will join [chief creative] Ted Sann and [COO] Jeff Mordos in the direct management of the agency,” Robertson said.

Sources said Mordos has been taking on more client-service responsibility in the past year. Some think his strong relationship with Pepsi makes him a leading contender for the New York CEO job. Mordos could not be reached.

Katz and Robertson both partnered with Ted Sann, chief creative for both New York and North America. But Sann’s 23-year professional relationship with Katz had become increasingly tense of late, sources said.

“Those guys have fought like brothers for years,” one source said. The October loss of the $225 million KFC account increased their frustrations with one another, sources said.

In the last six weeks, other accounts have left: Unilever’s Caress consolidated at WPP Group’s J. Walter Thompson in New York; Frito-Lay moved Tostitos to Omnicom’s GSD&M in Austin, Texas; and Masterfoods moved Skittles to Omnicom’s TBWA\Chiat\Day in New York (although it also promised BBDO two new product accounts). As a result, 25 staffers and several open positions across all disciplines were cut.

Sann, 58, denied there had been any unusual tension between him and Katz. “We’ve had tension all our lives,” he said, laughing. “But it’s not a cause-and-effect situation,” he added, referring to Katz’s departure.

Katz said, “I love Ted, and I love Andrew, and that’s the truth. If you’re going to investigate doing something else, you can’t do it working 18 hours a day. You have to cut yourself loose to do it.”