Two years later, he was named the agency's managing director. Mr. Lowe remained at Collett Dickenson Pearce until 1981, when he ventured out on his own, starting—with Geoff Howard Spink—Lowe Howard-Spink, London.
Early on, Mr. Lowe earned a reputation for solid yet offbeat, spunky advertising for clients such as Coca-Cola Co., General Motors Corp., Heineken, Saab and Sun Microsystems.
Mr. Lowe's first acquisition in the U.S. came when his agency bought a 30% interest in the New York-based Marschalk Co. In September 1987, his agency, the renamed Lowe Howard-Spink & Bell, agreed to spend $24.8 million to buy another New York agency, Laurence, Charles, Free & Lawson. The acquired agency's accounts included American Brands and McDonald's Corp.
In June 1990, Mr. Lowe chose the name Lowe & Partners for the U.S. operations created from the merger of Lowe Marschalk and Lowe Tucker Metcalf (the latter having been formed by Frank Lowe and Bill Tucker from Scali McCabe). Along with the new agency name, Mr. Lowe set out to double the shop's billings, which at that time stood at about $300 million annually.
Mr. Lowe also set about to turn the U.S. operation into a creative powerhouse. Both in London and the U.S. he became known for watching not just the bottom line but also the entire creative process, and for a time, he was approving every commercial script churned out by the London operation.
Later in 1990, the Interpublic Group of Cos., already a minority shareholder in Lowe & Partners, acquired the remaining 64.6% of the British agency group for $160 million. The deal gave Interpublic a third independent ad network that was, unlike McCann-Erickson and Lintas, known for its offbeat work. As part of the deal, Mr. Lowe joined the board of Interpublic.
Mr. Lowe continued to focus on expanding his network and in November 1993 formed Lowe & Partners/SMS, New York, after Lowe & Partners' acquisition of Scali, McCabe, Sloves from WPP Group. That same year, the New York office won the Coca-Cola Co.'s $70 million Diet Coke account, beating out Lintas, New York, Lowe's sibling agency within Interpublic.
But the Diet Coke win marked the beginning of a slow period for Lowe, and attempts to win accounts from companies such as Burger King, Digital Equipment Corp. and America West Airlines proved unsuccessful. The agency also lost the coveted Prudential Insurance Co. of America business to Fallon McElligott, a $60 million account that it had snatched away from Backer Spielvogel Bates in 1990.
In 1994, Mr. Lowe again assumed a more active role at the U.S. operation, installing himself fulltime at Lowe & Partners/SMS. By the end of that year, he had realigned top management, and the agency's losing streak ended in 1995 when Sony Electronics' $60 million U.S. account moved to Lowe.
In 1995, Mr. Lowe acquired a degree of infamy when, as chairman of the jury at the Cannes International Advertising Festival, he refused to select a Grand Prix winner, maintaining nothing he'd seen was good enough to win the top prize. Mr. Lowe then resumed building the agency network. In 1996, he acquired William Douglas McAdams, New York, as well as a share of Goldberg Moser O'Neill, San Francisco. He also acquired Roche Macaulay & Partners, Toronto, and launched agencies in Hong Kong and Denmark, while entering the South African market with Lowe Bull Calvert Pace and joining the GGK Occidental network in Austria and eight Eastern European markets.
The rapid global growth prompted the agency to split operations into four regions worldwide, overseen by a new worldwide board headed by Mr. Lowe.
In 1998, Interpublic named Mr. Lowe chairman-CEO of Octagon, its new sports marketing arm. A year later, Lowe Group again expanded its U.S. operation, becoming partnering with Mullen, Boston.
In February 1999, Lowe & Partners/SMS faced serious problems in its flagship New York office with the loss of its key Mercedes-Benz business, valued at $125 million.
In October of that year, Interpublic merged Ammirati Puris Lintas and Lowe & Partners Worldwide, creating Lowe Lintas & Partners Worldwide, with Mr. Lowe as chairman-CEO.
In 2000, Mr. Lowe was faced with the task of retaining clients at New York-based Ammirati Puris Lintas, chief among them Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, Burger King, Dell Computer Corp., GM and United Parcel Service, all of which were on the verge of leaving. In the end, only Burger King departed.
In 2001, Mr. Lowe was knighted by Queen Elizabeth. Early in 2002, as part of a restructuring at Interpublic, he lost his seat on the board, and the company announced that he would retire Jan. 2, 2003. Mr. Lowe remains a consultant to Interpublic and in September 2003 assumed the title chairman emeritus in lieu of non-executive chairman.
Born Aug. 8, 1941; began career in advertising at J. Walter Thompson Co., London, 1960; worked at several U.S. and British agencies before joining Collett Dickenson Pearce, London, 1970; started his own agency, Lowe Howard-Spink, 1981; joined board of Interpublic Group of Cos. after Interpublic acquired Lowe Group, 1990; named visiting professor in communications, University College, London, 2000; retired and assumed the title chairman emeritus, 2003.