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FCB thinks network: Mason wants Balousek to look around By Daniel S. Levine and Jim Kir

Playing catch-up to some of his larger global competitors, Foote, Cone & Belding worldwide chief Bruce Mason has decided it’s

It was learned last week that Mason recently assumed hands-on control of the domestic network from FCB president/coo in charge of North American operations Jack Balousek. Balousek pulled back from those duties to concentrate on the agency’s Western operations and acquisition efforts to shore up some of FCB’s U.S. offices.
Meanwhile, Mason and Balousek are out looking for a major acquisition that would allow FCB to start a second agency network, presumably with competing accounts.
Mason apparently is impressed with the way Omnicom and Interpublic-holding companies now with three networks each–have successfully handled a variety of competing accounts.
Several well-placed sources close to Mason said that ideally, FCB would like to have Chiat/Day as its keystone in this effort–particularly because C/D would deepen its creative cachet around the world. However, one source said it was doubtful the two agencies could persuade their major U.S. car clients–Mazda for FCB and C/D’s Nissan/Infiniti– to agree to such a merger, even if the accounts were served by independent units.
“It’s almost impossible to conceive of the Japanese agreeing to such a deal–given the situation in Japan today (where all of the car companies are cutting back production and lowering earning forecasts due to falling U.S. car sales),” said one source. “The (Nissan-Mazda) conflict is a deal-breaker.”
Speculation about talks between FCB and Chiat arose after FCB bought Chiat’s Mojo operation in Australia late last year. Recently, sources said Mason and Chiat/Day chief Jay Chiat were engaged in active discussions about a merger–although an agency spokesperson denied talks have taken place.
Balousek said he was keeping his title as president and chief operating officer of Foote Cone & Belding Communications. He would be, however, handing over national responsibilities to Mason so that Balousek could concentrate on the firm’s West Coast operations from his San Francisco base and also to further his new acquisitions assignment.
He insisted there was no truth to reports that FCB has already talked to Chiat/Day. “We’d have a direct conflict,” Balousek said, referring to the two competing car accounts. “The fact is we are not about to close a deal with Chiat/Day.”
Asked if FCB’s goal was to establish a second network, Balousek said, “Strategically there is certainly an opportunity for a second network. It is something we are considering.” But he insisted that the pursuit of such a strategy has nothing to do with his newly defined role and increased presence in the West.
Balousek, 47, remains a member of the board and will retain his cu– rent title. But agency divisions from Chicago to New York will now report directly to FCB chairman and ceo Bruce Mason.
Balousek said the decision was made nearly two months ago and driven largely by personal considerations. Since assuming national responsibilities nearly two years ago, Balousek said he has spent about 70% of his time traveling, logging 175,000 air miles in the past year alone.
In total, Balousek said West Coast operations represent about $1 billion in billings, or half of FCB’s North American total.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)