Weller & O’Sullivan Eyes Comeback




Bel Air Shop Seeking a Merger or Buyer After Several Tough Years
LOS ANGELES–Three years ago, Weller & O’Sullivan was a high-flying boutique with a small but impressive list of clients, including Transamerica, Foxwoods Resort Casino, Walt Disney Co.’s Buena Vista Home Video and the In-N-Out burger chain.
The Los Angeles agency merged with Zuckerman & Lightcap, New York, and the combined entity landed the coveted $5 million Pan American World Airways account. It was a golden opportunity to relaunch an airline with brand equity. At its peak, the bicoastal agency billed more than $35 million annually.
But that was then.
The shop’s woes began in 1997 when, after a nine-month review, In-N-Out moved its estimated $6 million account to McCann-Erickson, Los Angeles. As so often happens when an agency loses a major account, other defections quickly followed.
Pan Am put its account in play in 1997, and then went bankrupt, leaving Weller among its many creditors. The shop had about $500,000 in outstanding bills, mostly owed to its own vendors, recalled president Tom O’Sullivan. The agency’s East and West Coast offices split in April 1998 and divided up the bills. The New York office took the Disney business in hopes that the vendors might agree to waive some of the debt for a chance to work on the account, O’Sullivan said.
Then, earlier this year, Foxwoods moved its estimated $10 million business to Trahan, Burden & Charles in Atlanta.
Left with $3-4 million in billings, Weller & O’Sullivan has relocated to smaller offices in Bel Air, Calif., and is now looking for a buyer or to merge with another agency.
“We were small before; now we’re tiny,” said Jim Weller, agency partner and creative director, whose extensive credit list includes Citizen Watch’s “How the world tells time” campaign and George Bush’s 1988 presidential ad campaign.
Despite the recent setbacks, Weller and O’Sullivan are optimistic about the agency’s future. “I think we still have a lot to offer with the right partner,” Weller said.
The shop continues to handle Transamerica, Fisher Telephone and several healthcare accounts in Southern California. “We’re ready to restart the engine,” Weller said.