KSL at a Crossroads

KSL Media president Kal Liebowitz is close to completing a buyback of his agency from new parent the Interpublic Group, but the fate of top executives and clients at KSL’s once-robust L.A. operation remains up in the air.

The latest blows came last week: Cindy Borges, svp/managing director, left to run the Ditech account at Carat, L.A., and 21st Century Insurance moved its $25 million business to Initiative Media’s direct response unit after a review of undisclosed agencies.

Furthermore, KSL’s partnership with Glass Mc Clure in Sac ramento, Calif., expires at the end of 2001, and that shop’s $40 million in media buying will return to its former home, Initiative Partners here. KSL recently closed its Sacramento office.

Launched in 1981, KSL was once one of the top five independent media shops in the U.S. In 1999 it became an autonomous unit of True North, which was recently acquired by IPG. KSL opened an L.A. office six years ago, and it flourished under Hank Cohen, president of West Coast operations.

In the past year, the dot-com collapse, uncertainty over the IPG acquisition and the loss of key accounts, including the $100 million Revlon business in New York, threw the agency into “survival mode,” according to former staffers. National billings shrank from nearly $600 million to less than $200 million, and from $140 million to $50 million in the West, sources said.

Cohen is weighing options for after the IPG deal closes, sources said. They include remaining with KSL, running an L.A. office of Initiative’s second network, Media Partnership Corp., or joining another agency.

Cohen declined comment. Initiative executives were unavailable.