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Uh-oh Sergio: Zyman mulls traditional ad route By Michael McCarthy and Andrew Jaff

At about 3 p.m. last Tuesday M. Douglas Ivester, executive vp of Coca-Cola, walked into marketing chief Peter Sealey’s office unan

Sealey was shocked. He asked for time to arrange his affairs and talk to his troops. “I’m afraid not,” said Ivester. “We’d like you to be gone by the end of the day.”
Thus, sources relate, the sudden, and for Coke, cold firing of Sealey. On Wednesday, Coke issued a press release saying that Sealey–Creative Artists Agency’s longtime champion–was leaving the company to start his own consulting firm. He was replaced as “chief marketing officer” by controversial Coke marketing guru Sergio Zyman. At press time, sources said Zyman was in meetings and on the job already. Sealey, Zyman and Ivester could not be reached for comment. But Zyman told one source last week, even though Coke followed up the Sealey firing with an announcement that Ivester had authorized 30 more winter, holiday and image spots from CAA for late 1993 and early 1994, he was inclined to reduce CAA’s role in Coke advertising over time and “go the traditional agency route.”
Tom Pirko, president of the Los Angeles-based Bevmark Inc., said, “It’s a great sign for Madison Avenue–Sealey went Hollywood but Zyman knows how to use advertising to sell product and he will turn more toward (Coke Classic agency) McCann-Erickson again. It won’t be an end to the CAA experiment, but I think you will see a reversal of roles–CAA will be harnessed to the power of the ad agency rather than the other way around.”
For both the agencies of the Interpublic Group of Cos. and CAA, however, the ascension of the new product and strategy-oriented Zyman will be no bed of roses. During stints at IPG, Coke and Pepsi, Zyman has earned a reputation as a brilliant but difficult client who can be rough on agencies. “He’s ready, fire, aim,” said a source familiar with Zyman. Another source was even more blunt, saying that next to Ernest Gallo, Zyman “may qualify as the worst client on the planet.”
Both McCann and CAA have presented work for the main 1994 campaign; Zyman’s arrival is expected to restart the process.
Still, it’s too early to predict the end of the Coke/CAA relationship. As another well-placed source noted, “Zyman as much as anyone at Coke is attracted to Hollywood power. And the ties to Mike Ovitz at Coke reached much higher than Sealey. You don’t just fire Ovitz overnight.”
With Zyman–a two-time former chief of marketing for Coca-Cola USA and the man widely regarded as the father of Diet Coke–back in the picture, sources said the position of the IPG agencies will be strengthened. The biggest winner is likely Lintas; a shop with which Zyman feels a special kinship since he worked closely with the agency on the launch of Diet and Cherry Coke.
During his first seven-year stint at Coke, Zyman gave Lintas the nod over McCann-Erickson for the original Diet Coke assignment and even took Coke Classic away from McCann for a brief period in 1986. McCann got it back after Zyman left under a cloud resulting from the New Coke fiasco.
Under Sealey, Lintas has seen the $100-million Diet Coke budget slashed by an estimated $60 million and had its “Taste It All” campaign yanked from the air. Sources expect Zyman to put more bucks and focus behind Diet Coke as well as new product innovations like a possible midcalorie cola.
At McCann, sources said Zyman has ties to worldwide president John Dooner, who worked with Zyman at Lowe Marshalk. Lowe & Partners, which has seen its budget for Sprite slashed to pieces, may also benefit via Andy Langer’s connection to Zyman. —
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)