The venue was Phoenix–the desert in June, when temperatures hover around 105 degrees. Why Brendan Ryan, the chairman and chief executive officer of Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide, would select such a location for the network’s first major off-site gathering in years baffled some of the 200 employees scheduled to attend. Perhaps it was because Phoenix was an oddly
democratic choice: equally inconvenient for executives from around the world. Maybe it was because the agency saved a lot of money by choosing a hot place in the summer. Or, could it have been that Ryan knew his troops would not have to wait long at the bar to get their drinks, since they were essentially the only people staying at the Wigwam Resort? Whatever the incentive, Ryan’s motives were clear. He wanted to formally relaunch the FCB global network and foster better communication and spirit among its leaders.
“A lot of us had never laid eyes on each other before,” relays Charlie Taney, president of FCB, New York.
The days when FCB’s top managers could remain strangers to one another were over, and the three-day meeting heralded the change. Ryan took it upon himself to oversee many of the details, such as seating arrangements. He also gave his executives a task: Each was assigned the name of someone within the company they did not know, and was directed to get to know him or her. For Taney, it was Federico de Oromi, executive vice president of Pragma/FCB Argentina in Buenos Aires. When it was over, Ryan made sure their missions were successful by giving public pop quizzes.
The troops returned the favor. One night after the working sessions were over, the group found itself in a bar equipped with karaoke equipment. Taney, armed with a couple of cocktails, and FCB Worldwide creative director Geoff Thompson, who has a karaoke system in his home and is therefore well versed in the art of sing-along, led a serenade of Ryan. The tune they chose was “My Wild Irish Rose.”
Taney says the sentiment that came out of the outing was clear: “We might be late to this party, but we can play with anyone.”
In many ways, the meeting was the culmination of a yearlong drive by Ryan to instill exactly that sentiment at FCB. Since assuming worldwide control of the $5.6 billion company in March 1996, he has worked vigorously to induce greater cooperation among its nearly 150 offices worldwide. He has been forging ahead and building FCB, despite unrest at parent company True North Communications in Chicago. In the past year, True North has extracted itself from a difficult relationship with Publicis and struck a deal to acquire a second network, Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhardt. And the executive still faces a long journey in his quest to fully globalize FCB and replace Citibank and Tambrands, two key global clients the agency has recently lost.
“Any successful organization has to have a group of people at the top who like each other, share the same values and share a view of what the business is about,” says Ryan. “When people look up and see harmony on the top, it trickles down.” For Ryan, boosting network cooperation essentially means rewriting the company’s genetic code. When Emerson Foote, Fairfax Cone and Don Belding took control of the agency in the early 1940s, Foote worked in New York, Cone in Chicago and Belding in Los Angeles. “It was never a harmonious group of companies,” Ryan says.
The challenge is huge, so Ryan has tried to keep his methods simple. “Advertising is a personal business,” says Ryan, wearing his signature khaki pants, jeans shirt and loafers, at an interview in his office. “People work for people. Clients give their business to people.” He has stayed involved with the people in FCB’s offices, from those in the senior ranks to those without executive titles.
“He remembers names and has the ability to make you feel like you are a part of something that’s going somewhere,” says Tina Cohoe, president of FCB Direct. “He has the ability to energize people through the sheer force of his personality.”
Taney, who has worked at FCB since 1983, says that until Ryan took control, “the three parts of the country operated autonomously and competed against each other.” Take new business pitches, for example. “It was whoever got there first,” says Taney. Now, Ryan has a worldwide new business director, Maureen Shillet, who acts as a central clearinghouse for client prospects. He also created an FCB Worldwide management board that meets once a month–an entity FCB had lacked for many years. Members of the board are developing a blueprint to guide how business should be conducted and how advertising should be developed. The plan will become the agency’s model, containing the best creative and account-side practices used by FCB offices throughout the network.
In addition to Taney, Ryan and Thompson, the board includes Ron Bess, president of FCB, Chicago; Jack Boland, president of FCB, San Francisco; Laura Caffrey, executive vice president and chief financial officer of FCB Worldwide; and Harry Reid, president of FCB International. “Every person on the board works with clients,” says Ryan. “That’s a big shift from where FCB was a few years ago to where we are today and where we are going.”
The 54-year-old Ryan joined FCB in 1991 as president of what was then called FCB/Leber Katz Partners (Leber Katz Partners was dropped from the shop’s name earlier this year). He came over from Ogilvy & Mather, where he had been a top global account director. Years of experience handling O&M’s American Express and Kraft General Foods business had earned him the reputation as someone with the international account-building and management skills FCB so badly needed. Previously, he had spent time on the client side, working for about 10 years in product management at General Foods before joining O&M.
At FCB, Ryan leads by example. He believes a desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world. Domestic flights no longer count as travel. Although it’s tough to leave his 3-year-old twins, Sean and Emily, his sojourns from country to country offer time to catch up on the crime fiction he loves to read. “Senior management should not manage real estate and health plans,” argues Ryan. “You get someone good to do that for you. Senior management should work with senior clients.” And, they should work with each other.
The collaboration of ideas and talent among FCB offices, once nonexistent, is now evident throughout the network. Last spring, FCB Direct in New York teamed with FCB, Chicago, to pitch for a corporate branding assignment from Kraft. Although the Northfield, Ill.-based company eventually selected J. Walter Thompson, Chicago, to handle the assignment, the joint effort was a success for the way the agency conducts business. “It never would have happened before Brendan,” says Cohoe, who next year will begin heading up FCB Direct Worldwide, which is set to launch in January. FCB Direct has been a significant moneymaker, with billings in New York at about $350 million. Three years ago, the office claimed billings of $70 million.
There are other examples of collaboration. In July 1996 the result of a joint pitch for MCA/Universal left FCB, Los Angeles, with creative responsibility for the company’s theme-park account in Hollywood and FCB, New York, with the same job for the park in Florida. Staffers from FCB, Chicago, trekked to New Zealand to help FCB’s office there devise a campaign for Glade. In May, FCB, San Francisco, was credited with saving the network’s portion of the Mazda Motor of America account, which was handled by the FCB office in Santa Ana, Calif., before the agency had to give up the $250 million piece of business because of a conflict driven by parent company True North’s purchase of Bozell.
“We’ve started swapping people,” says Thompson, the FCB Worldwide creative director. “Brendan gets credit for saying, ‘This is a priority.'” Once a month, Thompson ships reels
containing ads from offices around the world to all the agency’s leaders. “Before, no one in San Francisco had any clue what the people in Paris were doing,” he says. The reels, coupled by Thompson’s critique, are meant to raise the creative bar at all FCB agencies.
While elevating standards at the network’s agencies is important, it’s critical that FCB continue global expansion if it hopes to become a truly worldwide powerhouse. “FCB has finally woken up to the fact that there’s a world out there. We’ve come to the realization that we have to have an in-depth network everywhere to win global business and protect U.S. business,” says Reid, the chief of FCB International.
“Brendan gets credit for whipping up FCB to have a global attitude. In the old days, there was not a global attitude.”
FCB has made some 30 acquisitions across the world in the past two years, according to Reid. Along the way, the company increased its presence in a long list of countries, including China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, India, Korea, Argentina,
Chile, Mexico, Venezuela and Peru.
“The network is knitting together now,” Reid says. Despite its expansion, the network was not enough to convince Citibank to consolidate advertising duties at FCB. The company in August shifted its estimated $500 million global account to Young & Rubicam in New York. For FCB, that meant a loss of about $150 million in domestic and international billings–and it came within days of the agency’s decision to resign Mazda. “We were doing something right but got chopped off at the knees by the famous decision,” says Reid.
“It’s a huge hit,” Ryan adds, “but you’ve got to keep it in perspective.” While FCB, New York, will have to absorb the brunt of the Citibank loss, the office is still projecting that billings will remain at about $1.2 billion next year.
FCB also recently lost another global account. A month ago, Procter & Gamble, which recently acquired Tambrands, moved the estimated $65 million Tampax account to Leo Burnett, its
roster shop in Chicago. FCB is a global agency for Kimberly-Clark Corp., which P&G considered a conflict. “It was unfortunate because we did a fantastic job,” Reid says. “It was pretty sad to have to hand it over.” There have been big losses, but there have also been gains. In April, following a competitive pitch, FCB was given creative responsibility abroad for Nabisco’s cookie, cracker and Royal brands.
“If it’s a level playing field, I would put money on FCB against any international network,” says Reid.
In addition to Nabisco, for which FCB works in more than 40 countries, the network’s other key worldwide client is S.C. Johnson, for which FCB handles business in more than 80 countries. S.C. Johnson consolidated its estimated $300-350 million global account at FCB in January 1996.
Taney, chief of FCB’s New York office, contends that FCB couldn’t be relaunched and refocused until it was divorced from Publicis. “Five years ago, mom and dad weren’t talking,” he says of the partnership between True North and Publicis. That’s changed. “It’s a real network for the first time owned by FCB,” he says. In February, True North settled all outstanding differences with Publicis, giving FCB complete control of its global network.
“Lots of networks claim to be global networks,” says Ryan, explaining that many networks have equity in agencies but not necessarily a majority stake. “Forty-nine percent is not 51 percent, and therefore you don’t control it,” says Ryan. Such was the situation with Publicis, leaving FCB the chore of convincing clients that its team was truly in charge of their business. “That was at the root of the problem,” says Ryan. The big, new focus for FCB, says Ryan, is ownership. “We will now own and have total management responsibility for our agencies in virtually any country where anyone wants to advertise,” says Ryan. “A significant minority stake is an oxymoron.”
On the same day in February that True North revealed that it had split with Publicis, it announced it formed a new European web by uniting five FCB offices with those of Wilkens International, the 19-country pan-European advertising network that True North acquired in January. The result gave FCB a full-service European network with billings in excess of $1 billion and more than 850 employees. The new network still has a long road to travel. The Publicis FCB European alliance had billings in excess of $3 billion. FCB, through acquisition, has also improved its presence in the Asia-Pacific market and in Latin America, where it now ranks seventh. “We got started late but we’re catching up,” claims Ryan. “We have quality offices and quality people in those offices. We’re making significant financial commitments.”
In order to enhance FCB’s global position, Ryan has appointed worldwide account directors on the network’s core accounts, including Levi’s, Mattel, Gatorade and Nabisco.
“Our challenge,” Ryan says, “is to take the tremendous business we have around the world and fill in the pockets we have in other parts of the world. That’s what our competitors have done for years, and now it’s our turn. We’ve been frankly unaggressive on that front.”
Of course, attracting new global clients is also a key focus for Ryan–and an aspect of his job that could be affected by the growth of FCB’s holding company, True North. In July, True North announced it had agreed to acquire Bozell for approximately $440 million. The merger–which will create the sixth-largest advertising company in the world, with more than $11.5 billion in billings–is expected to close by the end of the year. Its full impact on FCB has not yet been seen.
For one, the deal leaves Richard Braddock, the former Citicorp president who has been an outside director of True North since 1994, in a key role in the future of the new True North. Braddock is the non-executive chairman, and he has responsibility for overseeing the board of directors. The acquisition also gives True North a second global advertising agency, Bozell Worldwide, and a stronger position in the interactive arena through Bozell’s Poppe Tyson. In addition, the transaction will add other companies to the True North family–including Temerlin McClain in Irving, Texas, and the public relations firm Bozell Sawyer Miller Group. Chuck Peebler, chief executive of BJK&E, gets the title of president of True North as well as
chairman and chief executive of True North Diversified Cos., which oversees the operations of all the companies except Bozell Worldwide and FCB Worldwide. Bruce Mason retains the title of chief executive officer of True North.
So far, FCB has been forced to give up its estimated $250 million Mazda account because of a conflict with Bozell’s Chrysler business. “We accept the fact that we had to part company with Mazda, but no one feels good about it,” says Ryan, adding that the car account will be the only conflict casualty to result from the BJK&E acquisition.
As a True North board member, Ryan supported the purchase of BJK&E. While the deal gives the holding company more financial clout, the only real gains FCB will see from the acquisition are cost savings stemming from the combining of backroom functions with Bozell. Both agency networks have the same parent but will still compete against each other for business.
As the holding company continues to absorb its new addition, Ryan says he is remaining steadfastly focused on FCB. He is taking a Field of Dreams approach. “Our best years are ahead of us,” Ryan says. “We will build it, and hopefully clients will come.”