Levi’s Pulls the Plug on TBWA

Following the loss of its $60 million Levi’s account, TBWA\Chiat\Day is considering several moves, including closing its office here.

The account will be shifted to Bartle Bogle Hegarty, which handles the business in Europe and elsewhere. Roughly 120 staffers work at TBWA\C\D here, nearly half of them on Levi’s. TBWA\C\D has handled the do mestic account since 1998, when it won the business from Foote, Cone & Belding.

The loss leaves the agency with four ac counts: the $40 million Starz Encore business, the $5-10 million Wine Market Council account, which the agency won last week, and a $1 million assignment from Callaway Golf. The shop here, one of three operated by TBWA in the U.S., also handles Sony PlayStation, but it could shift to Los Angeles in light of Levi’s decision.

Agency officials would not comment on the news, but Tom Carroll, TBWA’s president of the Americas, said, “We haven’t made any decisions regarding the San Francisco office.”

“There’s about an 80 percent chance the office will completely go away,” one source said. “There is a lot of ego involved, and companies hate closing offices.”

The possible shutdown did not come up at an agencywide meeting last Wed nesday, which sources described as downbeat. Instead, the focus was on the three-month handoff to BBH. More meetings are ex pected this week.

According to sources, the agency switch has been in the works since last summer. In fact, the company’s public statement that the shift was a strategic move toward a global realignment is only part of the story.

Sources said the key reason be hind the move was that Levi’s U.S. president Richard Hanson, who dealt with BBH in the past, has been anxious to work with the shop in this market. BBH, London, had proven its mettle with Hanson, when he was president of the brand for Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Hanson and BBH worked closely on the successful European launch of Engineered Jeans in 2000. “He’s a strong leader. He is a charismatic individual who’s at his best when the chips are down,” said BBH chairman Nigel Bogle. “He wants brave work and buys it.”

BBH now handles more than $110 million in Levi’s billings worldwide. (U.S. media buying remains at OMD in New York.) BBH group account director Sarah Thompson will steer management of the U.S. account, while the creative effort will be led by group creative director Thomas Hayo.