Revenge Is Sweet

It’s the relationships, stupid. In the ad business, past relationships, both good and bad, can always be relied on to surface at some point—usually when a big piece of business is at stake.

Case in point: Arnold’s nearly year-long quest to add a major portion of the Fidelity Investments account, which recently culminated with the financial firm naming the Havas-owned shop to handle its mutual-funds and retirement-services offerings. The business had been with Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos for six years. It’s estimated to be worth $50-75 million to Arnold, its biggest new-business gain this year.

Agencies, take note: You too can engineer such a coup. Conversely, a coup can also be done unto you.

Motivated equally by the desire to add business and exact a measure of revenge on its crosstown rival, Ar nold took a page from Hill, Holliday’s own book to bring Fidelity aboard.

Hill, Holliday CEO Jack Connors is an acknowledged master at leveraging personal relationships. In 1999, Connors and Arnold chairman Ed Eskandarian—as soft-spoken and cer ebral as Connors is bold and blustery—faced off for the consolidated account of FleetBoston Financial. Fleet, an Arnold client, had acquired BankBoston, which worked with Hill, Holliday. Heading the combined account was Fleet’s Anne Finucane, a former executive at Hill, Holliday who retained close ties to people at the Interpublic Group agency.

Hill, Holliday got the business without a review. The account grew to more than $100 million, making it the largest on Hill, Holliday’s roster.

The FleetBoston loss stuck in Eskandarian’s craw. In the spring of 2000, Arnold saw its chance to pay back Hill, Holliday in kind. Fidelity was disenchanted with Hill, Holliday’s creative output, and there were looming roster conflicts. Connors maneuvered to save the business, but the subsequent “See yourself succeeding” campaign got mixed reviews, especially among some client decision makers.

Arnold executives saw a potential friend at Fidelity in marketing svp Beth Pasciucco, a former Arnold staffer who had once overseen the Fleet account. It is believed Pasciucco played an instrumental role in the en suing drama. (Eskandarian says only, “I’m hopeful that she was a plus.”)

A series of meetings with Fidelity led to Arnold’s hire for interactive projects. During further talks, Arnold suggested ways to apply its “brand essence” philosophy to the broader marketing mix. In June, Fidelity broke with Hill, Holliday, citing, in a delicious twist, the expanding FleetBoston account as a source of conflict.

Two weeks ago, Fidelity confirmed that most of Hill, Holliday’s work is en route to Arnold.

Don’t shed any tears for Hill, Holli day, one street-smart agency with a few well-placed friends of its own. For instance, there’s Paula Polito, a former senior staffer at the agency and now a vp in Merrill Lynch’s Private Client Group, the unit in charge of brokerage and mutual-funds services.

Should Merrill Lynch shop J. Walter Thompson be concerned? Not as long as it keeps in mind that adage about remembering the past—the one that mentions something about being “doomed.”