IPG Sues Omnicom Over Quaker

CHICAGO-Foote, Cone & Belding and Interpublic Group have sued Omnicom, DDB and former FCB Chicago president Brian Williams in an effort to stop Williams from moving to a DDB unit to run the Quaker Oats business.

The lawsuit, filed Monday, Oct. 1, in Cook County Circuit Court, charges Williams, Omnicom and DDB with a host of wrongs, including breach of contract and fiduciary duties, and tortious interference with contract and business relations.

Essentially, IPG and FCB argue that Williams violated his employment agreements by helping DDB take over PepsiCo.’s Quaker account, specifically through identifying key FCB employees on the business for DDB to go after.

FCB and IPG also are asking for an injunction stopping the defendants “from soliciting, recruiting or hiring any of FCB Chicago’s employees.

According to the suit, Williams signed confidentiality and non-solicitation agreements in March 2000 and again last February that bar him from working for any FCB Chicago client or soliciting or hiring any FCB Chicago employees for one year after leaving the agency.

Yet in meetings with DDB in the week prior to his Sept. 27 resignation, Williams worked with Omnicom and DDB to solicit key FCB employees on the Quaker business, the lawsuit states.

Among those he allegedly solicited for DDB were Martin Sherrod and John Fraser, veteran agency executives on the Quaker account, both of whom also resigned Sept. 27, according to the lawsuit.

PepsiCo moved its Quaker business to Omnicom on Sept. 19, citing cost savings.

Williams on Sept. 24 told FCB CEO Brendan Ryan that he had an opportunity to join Omnicom to service the Quaker business. The next day he flew to New York and met with Omnicom and DDB representatives with FCB’s Jonathan Harries, who was known to have been approached about making the jump with Williams to DDB [Adweek, Oct. 1]. Harries, however, stayed with FCB and last week was named chairman of FCB Chicago and FCB’s worldwide creative director.

The two also met with Ryan while in New York on Sept. 25, and Ryan asked them to stay, the lawsuit states.

According to Williams’ Sept. 27 resignation letter to Ryan, he left for “the opportunity to become CEO of an independent agency with the DDB/Omnicom world.”

Williams also acknowledges discussing his plans with three FCB employees key to the Quaker business in the letter, but writes that “beyond that I have not talked to anyone at FCB or other FCB clients per the terms of my non-solicitation agreement.”

“I look forward to an amicable parting of ways,” he wrote in the final paragraph.

Williams, who sources said did not have a contract with Omnicom as of Thursday, could not immediately be reached. Officials at the agencies declined comment or also could not be reached, but an FCB representative said, “We’re disappointed it has come to this, but it is now a legal matter and we’re not going to comment further.”