Surveying The Damage At Wells

Remaining Clients, Management Evaluate Tenuous Situation
NEW YORK–With the $125 million Procter & Gamble account gone, Wells BDDP is facing mounting pressure from some of its remaining clients, including Heineken USA.
Steve Davis, vice president of marketing at Heineken, stopped short of saying the account would be pulled from the beleaguered New York shop. He did say, however, that he was urgently seeking answers from Wells’ management on certain issues before deciding on any next steps.
“Given recent events, we have a high sense of urgency to get clarity on the Wells situation,” said Davis. “We’re happy with the people at Wells who work on the business, but there are bigger, fundamental issues that we don’t understand at Wells that need to be brought into focus before we can determine what, if anything, needs to be done.”
Sources said Heineken may attempt to move the account and key Wells personnel to another shop. Wells handles both Heineken and Amstel, a combined $20-30 million in annual billings.
The agency has also suffered its second major defection within the creative team on the Toys R Us account. Michael Mark, a managing partner, resigned recently.
Last summer, executive creative director Linda Kaplan Thaler left the agency to start her own boutique, The Kaplan Thaler Group. She has subsequently built a client base with $60 million in billings. Speculation continues that Kaplan, who wrote the Toys R Us jingle, is in line for that business. Both Kaplan Thaler and Mark denied having held any discussions with Toys R Us regarding the business.
Ernie Speranza, senior vice president, marketing and advertising at the Paramus, N.J.-based client, did not return calls. Toys R Us spends some $75 million on advertising annually.
Michael Greenlees, chief executive of Wells parent GGT Group, said, “We’re reviewing all of Wells’ issues. We will not make any knee-jerk reactions Our existing clients are backing us.”
Wells chief executive Frank Assumma declined comment.
Last week’s loss of P&G leaves Wells with around $200 million in billings. Two of the agency’s other big clients, Georgia-Pacific and Chase Manhattan Bank are relatively inactive at the moment, said sources. Hertz is another large Wells account.
Sources said about 100 of the current 300 staffers at Wells would be dismissed as a consequence of last week’s loss. A few top-level executives are joining other P&G shops and plan to take some staffers with them.
State Lawrence, one of three managing partners whose resignations preceded Wells’ dismissal by P&G, has been hired by Grey Advertising here, which inherited the Pringles account from Wells.
Separately, sources said, Saatchi & Saatchi chief executive Kevin Roberts was in talks last week with Beverly Okada and Keith Bunnell, two other Wells managing partners who resigned recently. Both Okada and Bunnell worked on the Oil of Olay business at Wells, which was reassigned to Saatchi.
Roberts did not return calls; Bunnell and Okada declined comment.
–with staff reports