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Follow the leader: William Morris, ICM probe Madison Ave. By Kathy Tyre

Perhaps it was inevitable–a lure too golden to overlook. Hot on the heels of Creative Artists Agency’s trend-bending relationship with Coke,

Among the agencies believed to have been contacted by either firm are Wells Rich Greene BDDP, Chiat/Day, Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, Bozell and BBDO Worldwide.
For at least a week, ICM executive vice president Steve Carbone has been paying visits to New York agency giants. The talks appear to be preliminary. As the process gets closer to the deal-making level, ICM president/ceo Jeff Berg is expected to enter the picture.
Meanwhile, WMA has hired as an agent Jim Pepe, a young, ex D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles/N.Y. suit who worked on the Procter & Gamble account, as part of a strategy to beef up its relationships in the ad agency community. It’s believed that Pepe, who has been at WMA a matter of months, has also initiated some discussions with ad agencies.
Said a WMA source who declined to be identified: “To be increasingly competitive in this area, we’ve started to look not only to the mailroom but to ad agencies, to bring in people who have backgrounds greater in advertising than in actual talent agency work.”
“Our program is to attach ourselves to whomever will listen as to the future of the communications business,” said a source inside one of those talent agencies who declined to be identified. “Ad agencies tend, in my opinion, to be isolated from reality because of the demands of their clients. That’s how (CAA chairman) Mike Ovitz made his deal. Now did he solve their client’s problems? It’s presumptuous to think you can. It might make more sense if you can work together to come up with some solutions.”
CAA shook the advertising community to its core when it successfully wrested a multi-million dollar ad campaign from Coca-Cola agency of record McCann-Erickson/N.Y.
What distinguishes the ICM and WMA efforts from CAA, though, is that the two appear to be trying to work through the advertising agencies instead of going directly to clients.
“All talent agencies work closely with ad agencies,” said one WMA source familiar with that agency’s roughly etched plan. “It would benefit any talent agency, in light of the CAA situation–where a very adversarial role was taken by CAA–to strengthen and build relationships directly with agencies.”
ICM’s Carbone is reportedly emphasizing that strategy to agency executives, informing them in meetings that ICM wants to work with advertisers through agencies rather than directly, to give them access to directors, stars, animated characters, films and music properties that will become the cultural icons of tomorrow.
In an example of such a strategy, Leo Burnett/Chicago announced earlier this year a deal between its client, Kellogg’s, and the Dr. Seuss property, that, according to an informed source, was put together by ICM.
It doesn’t appear as though either ICM or William Morris plan to hire creative talent inhouse, or to develop a freelance creative pool, as CAA did to produce its first flight of Coke commercials. And ICM isn’t looking for an exclusive relationship with any agency group, sources have said.
Ad agency sources said that while the ICM discussions are fairly open-ended and that no deals have been signed, they are intrigued by the proposition.
Neither Pepe nor Carbone would answer questions concerning this story. “We don’t comment on our ongoing business policies,” Carbone said.
Other talent agencies of all sizes are expected to enter the fray. Said one talent agent: “CAA is not a onetrick pony. They’ve initiated discussions with Credit Lyonnais and they’re talking to AmEx about event marketing. They’ve tapped the powder keg that will allow for other opportunities for talent agencies. Any talent agency worth it’s salt should look at strengthening their bond with advertisers. But you’ve got to be smart about it, too.”
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)

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