Y&R’s Fudge, Patti Still Sorting Out 1-2 Punch

Burger King defined Michael Patti’s first 10 months at Young & Rubicam. He was instrumental in the New York shop landing lead creative on the $350 million account last April, and he led creative efforts from day one, devoting a large chunk of his time to producing work for the fickle Miami-based client.

So when Brad Blum, CEO of the fast-food chain, called Jan. 22 to fire the WPP Group shop, it was a deflating moment, to say the least, for the New York CEO and his troops. Still, at a previously scheduled agency gathering that night at The Supper Club in Manhattan, Patti, a creative who is most comfortable in a T-shirt and baseball hat, tried to take some of the sting out of a hard loss.

He walked into the nightclub carrying a McDonald’s cup and, according to sources, at one point quipped, “The bad news is we lost Burger King. The good news is we lost Burger King.”

Still, the buzz of leading a national account in a high-profile category is now gone—and with it, an estimated $20 million in revenue. In fact, Patti and Y&R’s more buttoned-down worldwide CEO, Ann Fudge, have little to show for their efforts to restore luster to a shop that, since its IPO in 1998 and sale to WPP in 2000, has been defined largely by client losses and management churn. At the New York headquarters alone, billings have shrunk from an estimated $3.4 billion at the end of 1998 to about $1 billion today.

Moreover, insiders say there is a noticeable lack of chemistry between Patti and Fudge—who is in her first agency job—and that the two have at times butted heads. They have “nothing in common,” said one staffer. “They come from two different universes.”

In person last week, Patti and Fudge acknowledged the reports of friction between them but downplayed their differences. Patti, who said their interactions are often brief and informal, given their hectic schedules, said friction “creates sparks, and sparks create fires, and fires create great ads. You’ve got to have some tension there.”

Seated across from Patti at a bar inside the Carlyle Hotel, Fudge said, “Sometimes the best marriages—and I think about this as a marriage—are when you have two incredibly strong people who feel confident in what they do, yet come together when it’s appropriate. I trust Michael implicitly, to the point where I don’t have to be in every meeting with him. I think that’s more of a testament of my belief in his capabilities.”

Patti added, “Ann and I will sit down in 20 minutes, and say, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Go, go, go.’ Because you know what? We’re really trying to fix this place. It isn’t broken. But it really just needs polishing and [to be] shined up.”

Asked about the lack of new-business wins on her watch, Fudge said she has been focusing on existing clients rather than pursuing incremental revenue, in the hope of gaining additional assignments and improving the reel. “Where your bread is buttered is from those established businesses,” she said.

While each has global duties, Patti, 50, focuses on New York’s creative product, while Fudge, 52, is responsible for the bigger picture, which is not limited to New York or Y&R. (She is also CEO of Y&R Brands, the collection of holdings that used to be known as Y&R Group and that includes Wunderman, Landor Associates and Burson-Marsteller.)

Fudge and Patti had not met before joining Y&R, and they were hired by different people at different junctures—Patti last March by Fudge’s predecessor, Mike Dolan; Fudge last May by WPP CEO Martin Sorrell. They have known each other for a relatively short period of time, and some say it is too early to judge their performance, especially given the problems they inherited.

Sorrell is said to be somewhat satisfied with the progress thus far—but would like more victories like Y&R Brands’ win of Microsoft’s direct marketing two weeks ago and more quality work along the lines of what Y&R is doing for AT&T and Sony. Sorrell declined comment.

Fudge cited the Microsoft win as an example of what the Y&R group as a whole can achieve. Although none of the estimated $50-75 million in revenue will land at the ad agency, the win reaffirmed the larger group’s ability to pull together resources on behalf of global clients. The effort was led by Fudge and New York COO John Morris, who will oversee the business from his office here.

“My whole philosophy around Young & Rubicam Brands is marketing communications from a holistic perspective,” Fudge said. “This whole crap about above-the-line and below-the-line—that is like ’50s commentary. Get real.”

Creatively, one Y&R client, at least, is sold. “He took very good ideas and turned them into great ideas,” Dave Monfried, svp of corporate communications at MetLife, a client for more than three decades, said of Patti’s recent efforts. “He was right on strategy and right on brand attributes in a very creative way.”

Neither Fudge nor Patti is involved day-to-day with Campbell Soup Co. (Y&R handles brands such as Pepperidge Farm, V8 and Chunky.) But Paul Alexander, vp of global advertising, said he is pleased with their performance thus far, and called Y&R’s recent V8 work “much more creative than we’ve had in the past.”