In the Dark at D’Arcy

NEW YORK — An internal D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles memo has rankled not just the already frustrated rank and file but even some top-level executives who have yet to learn their fate as the agency prepares to close.

D’Arcy chief branding officer Susan Gianinno ordered staffers on the Procter & Gamble account not to inquire about jobs at sister Publicis Groupe shops, saying this interferes with transition planning. “As you might imagine, this is an enormously sensitive and complex task,” she wrote in the Dec. 6 memo. “No one should be initiating contact with the client or with anyone from another of the Groupe agencies. There is a formal process under way, including a plan to communicate with all of you working on P&G businesses as soon as possible and to have all the people questions answered by Dec. 15.”

The memo said the deadline for concluding the transition of P&G is the end of January.

One senior executive termed the memo “ridiculous,” adding, “Why would you put that kind of stuff in writing? Everybody owes it to themselves to try and get jobs if they can.”

Legally, “an employer can tell employees anything they want … each employee has to figure out what it means and which way they’re better off,” noted attorney Rick Kurnit of Frankfurt, Garbus, Kurnit, Klein and Selz in New York.

The plan to move some of the shop’s P&G staffers to other Publicis Groupe agencies is being handled by Gianinno, human resources head Patty Enright and D’Arcy New York president Lance Smith, who has run the global $600 million P&G account.

Many of D’Arcy’s 300-plus New York staffers do not know if they will move with the shop’s remaining accounts once D’Arcy’s $2 billion in global billings are reassigned to Publicis shops including Saatchi & Saatchi, Leo Burnett, Publicis and the Kaplan Thaler Group.

The memo only exacerbated staff confusion. It went on to say that “discussions regarding the move of General Mills/Pillsbury people and businesses to Saatchi are being finalized. All of the people being asked to move with this business transition have been contacted.”

This information was contradicted in a subsequent memo from Peter Hubbell, managing director of D’Arcy’s General Mills account. “To be very clear, no one has been contacted as yet,” it said. “Offer letters have been drafted. … You all have reason to be very optimistic about this transition and your role going forward.” The memo explained that Giannino’s information was incorrect because her role in the General Mills transition “has been a peripheral one.”

Neither Hubbell nor Gianinno could be reached.

A D’Arcy representative said, “The transition has been an extraordinarily complex process, but communicating the facts related to our progress to staff has been and continues to be a priority.”

“Nobody’s being taken care of over here,” one staffer fumed. “It’s scandalous the way this thing is being handled. It’s a debacle. These e-mails should stop. People want to hear something meaningful.”

The Gianinno memo sought to allay talk of impending layoffs, calling such reports “unsettling, unsubstantiated, unnerving and exaggerated.” It further said management’s goal is to “move as many people into jobs as we possibly can.”

Publicis Groupe CEO Maurice Levy, in New York last week for the UBS Warburg conference, was asked about Giannino’s memo and what he would say to D’Arcy staffers with low morale. “It’s not easy,” he said. “I recognize that [dissolving D’Arcy] was a tough decision. I think all this will be solved in two to three weeks.”