Hill, Holliday Begins Reorganization

New Agency Committee Spurs Talk of Acquisitions, Next CEO
BOSTON–Calling his departure “the longest exit in the history of advertising,” Jack Connors has taken steps toward identifying the next chief executive officer of Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos and said in 10 days he would announce a major reorganization to more clearly delineate senior roles.
The 56-year-old agency co-founder has sanctioned the formation of an executive committee, from which his successor will be selected in the next 24 months.
The committee today consists of president and chief creative officer Fred Bertino; chief operating officer Joe Norberg; executive vice presidents Brian Carty, Terry Carleton, Rob Scalea and Don White; and senior vice president John Connors. Others, including creative director Mike Sheehan, may be added.
Among the group’s first orders of business is the development of acquisition strategies. For example, Carleton, a group account manager who oversees technology clients, is spearheading the identification of possible buyouts in the design, interactive and direct marketing arenas.
“We’re not looking for whole agencies but at specific areas of specialization,” said Connors, who holds the dual title of chairman and chief executive officer.
White, working with senior vice president Fred Criniti, is looking for an acquisition to reboot the design department, which has languished since luxury car maker Infiniti left six years ago, White said.
Suitable candidates include design firms, preferably located in Greater Boston, with revenues of $3-4 million, a staff of between 15 and 20 and a “good reputation in brand identification work,” White said. A shop that would fit within Hill, Holliday’s entrepreneurial culture is also important.
“Everyone, even at the most senior levels, works here,” said White. No prima donnas “in black suits and shirts need apply,” he said. “We don’t want a solo practitioner” but a design firm to help re-establish Hill, Holliday’s capabilities.
The design group recently completed a collateral series for British Airways’ U.S. office and has projects in the pipeline for AMD, BankBoston and Cabot Corp.
White also is looking to beef up Hill, Holliday’s direct marketing capabilities by buying a firm that specializes in managing data. “We’re in a league now where you’ve got to be very aggressive. The business is moving so fast that windows of opportunity are there and then they’re gone.”
Pressure to identify a new chief executive officer resulted from the agency’s sale last year to New York-based Interpublic Group of Cos.
“This [committee] is the next generation of Hill, Holliday,” he said. “But it’s not like I’m going anywhere fast.” Connors plans to stay on “indefinitely” as chairman, he said.
Connors is not saying exactly what credentials or capabilities he is seeking, but as long as Hill, Holliday’s numbers remain strong, it is his choice alone to make, he said.
“We’re prepared to cross the billion-dollar billings mark with a structure today that worked really well when we had $500 million or $600 million,” Connors said.
Hill, Holliday logged record growth of 32 percent in calendar year 1998 after back-to-back years when revenues and billings grew by 16 percent and 20 percent, respectively.