Ryan’s Hope: The Worst Is Over

For most of his 36-year career, Brendan Ryan was known as a stellar account handler, a favorite go-to guy for many blue-chip clients. He moved up the management ranks at Ogilvy & Mather and later Foote, Cone & Belding, becoming CEO of FCB in March 1996.

Like many CEOs, Ryan weathered the ups and downs that are common in the agency business. But nothing could prepare him for 2001.

By his own admission, 2001 was “a great pain in the ass.” That may be an understatement. To many, FCB appeared to be in a free fall, losing seven major accounts worth a total of $800 million-plus in billings.

Part of the problem was the acquisition last year of FCB parent True North Communications by the Interpublic Group, a deal that saddled FCB with some untenable conflicts. Most notably, FCB’s Tropicana, Aquafina and Gatorade brands conflicted with IPG’s Coca-Cola relationship.

Account-service problems, however, also plagued the shop, according to sources. FCB’s San Francisco office, for example, was devastated by the loss last year of the $400 million AT&T Wireless business. One source contended that “instead of letting it languish on the West Coast, it should have been brought in to New York much sooner.”

Ryan responded, “If I could have done that over again, I would have moved it to New York sooner,” declining to elaborate.

As 2002 rolled around, Ryan faced an enormous challenge: to turn around a down-on-its-luck agency perceived as an also-ran in the global contest for ad dollars. And do it while the clock is ticking.

Ryan kicked off the new year by bringing in help. He added new senior managers who developed a targeted plan to attract new business. And the agency is showing signs of life. Last week, it wrested the $100 million Qwest account from DDB in Chicago (see story on page 4). Already, FCB has won more new business this year—$435 million—than it did all of last year (see chart).

Ryan, 59, credits much of the stabilization and momentum to his two new, seasoned top lieutenants, Charlie Taney and Gene Bartley.

Taney, 55, who arrived in February, is overseeing J.P. Morgan Chase, a company with which he had a strong relationship when he was at FCB three years ago. As part of his efforts to stabilize the $100 million account, Taney hired Kim Corrigan as worldwide account director. Taney is also overseeing Samsung.

“Charlie makes the internal group work well and deliver for the client,” Ryan said. “He’s a big presence, incredibly reliable, and someone people have confidence in.”

Bartley, 56, former CEO of Bozell, joined FCB in January and was assigned to straighten out the agency’s West Coast presence. He moved Taco Bell account service from San Francisco to Irvine, Calif., to be closer to the client. Both offices still handle creative.

“FCB is a key partner for us,” Taco Bell chief marketing officer Greg Creed said. “I’ve been impressed with their dedication to find insights in our products and brand and translate them into a meaningful consumer proposition.”

While FCB insists it has strong global capabilities, it has fewer global clients than other agencies of comparable size—a problem that Ryan, Taney, Bartley and global creative chief Jonathan Harries are also working to address. A new, more disciplined system has been set up to target five to seven new clients in every region around the world.

Ryan also cited two tools FCB is implementing networkwide: a “Model of One” tool that uses database techniques to bring together all advertising, direct and digital; and a “Measurability and Accountability” tool that can demonstrate ROI for prospective clients.

“This kind of focus and effort is new,” Taney said. “FCB wasn’t consistently selling [these tools]. Now, each office follows a blueprint when approaching new business.”

IPG CEO John Dooner praised FCB’s “go-to-market” offerings, such as its strong integration capabilities, and described the work on accounts such as Dockers, Coors, Kraft and Nabisco as “category leaders.”

Dooner would still like to see improvements in the agency’s new-business performance, however. “I’ve seen plans from FCB, and they have strong targets they have to meet,” he said.