The Thrills—and $90 Mil.—Are Gone

DALLAS The loss of Six Flags earlier this week may have been a blow to Ackerman McQueen, but the shop’s chief executive officer said it wasn’t a surprise.

The Oklahoma City client chose Doner in Southfield, Mich., to handle its $90 million global creative and media account. Indie incumbent Ackerman, also of Oklahoma City, contended against Publicis Groupe’s Fallon in Minneapolis and Interpublic Group’s Deutsch/LA in Marina del Rey, Calif.

Six Flags has been the 192-person shop’s largest client, representing more than a third of its approximately $250 million in billings and an estimated 6 percent of revenue. When Ackerman won the business nine years ago, Six Flags had only three parks; today it has 39.

Shop CEO Angus McQueen said the agency has known since last year that Six Flags could put its account into review, and when the process formally began in June, Ackerman let go 45 people domestically who had worked on the business. “We control our expenses very carefully and we don’t run risks or gamble with our financial well-being,” McQueen said. “Nothing about the news that we won’t be keeping the business is leading to panic.”

McQueen said the defeat was not a shocker either. “We were realistic that when the client was having two tough years in a row, the chance of retaining the business was small,” he said. “They asked us to participate and there was no reason to be belligerent or unpleasant, so we hung in there.”

McQueen predicts even without the Six Flags business in 2004, the year will be profitable. “We have very substantial growth with many of our existing clients and we have new business,” he said, declining to name the new clients.

Still, the shop is also planning to close its five-person Brussels office, which it opened last year to primarily service Six Flags, McQueen said. The London and San Francisco offices, which also handled Six Flags business, will remain open and will continue to handle work largely for educational toy manufacturer Leap Frog, a client that spent $40 million on media last year, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

Other clients of the shop include NEC Corp., Kerr-McGee and Juniper Networks. The company’s subsidiary, The Mercury Group in Washington, D.C., lists the National Rifle Association among its clients.

McQueen said his agency does not feel like a scapegoat for Six Flag’s troubles. “Anybody who is suffering through tough times looks for ways to fix it,” he said. “The advertising agency often is a good place to start. There’s nothing you can do about it.”