FCB engineers delicate balance with Clorox win — Decentralized Structure Lets It Keep Three Competitors on Roster . . . for Now

With the addition of $23 million more Clorox business two weeks ago, Foote, Cone & Belding may find itself even more committed to its decentralized agency structure in North America than it might like.
Although FCB has made strides to centralize its operations in its finance area and has set its sights on developing a more consistent creative product among its offices, the addition of more Clorox business last week was a clear signal that any substantial centralization among offices would be difficult without jeopardizing the relationships of three of its biggest clients: Clorox Co., Colgate-Palmolive and S.C. Johnson & Sons.
FCB’s San Francisco office picked up Pine-Sol from Young & Rubicam and the Soft Scrub and Clorox Clean-Up products from DDB Needham Chicago, after that agency won S.C. Johnson’s newly acquired Drackett brands. Clorox though, citing a fairly strict conflict policy, dropped Needham for FCB/S.F., even though FCB/Chicago handles S.C. Johnson. FCB/Leber Katz Partners, N.Y., handles Colgate-Palmolive, which includes the company’s Ajax cleaners, brands in the same category as Clorox’s Soft Scrub.
The three companies are more than competitors, they are enemies, battling for share in the household product category.
“It’s amazing they’ve been able to pull this off,” said one Needham insider. “I don’t think you can find another situation where three competing clients can sit in one agency network. I’m envious.”
FCB insiders said last week that discussions were held with all three clients before any moves were made to prevent any client fallout. And its ability to keep the clients under one holding company can partially be credited to long-standing ties with all three clients that date back at least 30 years, and more than 60 years in the case of Clorox’s relationship with FCB. But it’s FCB’s deep decentralization, which has proven to be both a plus and a minus for company chairman Bruce Mason in his drive to walk a tightrope between both worlds, that still is the main drive within the agency.
“I don’t see it as an issue. I look around and see a lot of P&G, Unilever overlap. We’re careful how we protect the categories we’re in. We were very upfront with S.C. Johnson,” said Mitch Engel, evp/managing director, FCB/ Chicago. “Offices in different cities have to be self-standing.”
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