Is Effler in Houston’s Future?

By David Gianatasio

BOSTON–Doug Houston and Don Effler, the divorced duo that built Houston Herstek Favat into one of the nation’s hottest agencies in the mid-1990s, have discussed rejoining forces to rescue their sagging fortunes, sources said.

One scenario is a merger of Houston Herstek here and Houston Helm & Co. and Colby Effler, both in Los Angeles, sources said. Uniting the operations would create a viable bicoastal agency with a solid client base and top-notch creative leadership, sources said.

Effler would neither confirm nor deny a recent meeting with his former partner. Asked about a possible sale or merger, Effler replied, ‘I can’t say anything about that.’

Houston took a harder line. ‘I haven’t talked to Don Effler in more than a year,’ he said, insisting that a sale or merger of his beleaguered agency is not under consideration.

A wild card in a Houston-Effler reunion is the role of Dentsu, parent company of Colby Effler. The ad men split in January 1996 because Effler advocated selling the agency to the Japanese communications conglomerate, a move Houston opposed.

Given Houston Herstek’s current woes, however, a deal with Colby Effler under the Dentsu aegis may now be possible, sources said. In the last month, Houston Herstek has lost more than $100 million in billings from Fidelity Investments, NEC Computer Systems and the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism. With those clients gone, the 100-person agency now has estimated billings of $70-80 million.

Since the start of 1996, Colby Effler has suffered a billings drop of $80 million, losing accounts such as Health Net, Countrywide and Dole packaged goods. The 50-person agency has three active accounts: Suzuki motorcycles, Dole fresh vegetables and the California Avocado Commission. –with Judy Warner and Kathy Tyrer

Copyright ASM Communications, Inc. (1997) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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