Modernista Closes Amsterdam Office

Loss of GM Business Ends Indie Shop's 3-Year-Old Outpost

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Modernista is shuttering its 3-year-old Amsterdam office in the wake of its loss of General Motors' business, the agency informed staffers in a meeting today. Modernista handles creative duties for the automaker's Hummer and Cadillac brands, but those contracts are expected to cease in early 2010.

The closing of the Boston-based indie shop's Amsterdam location is expected to affect about a dozen people.

Modernista first opened its doors in Amsterdam as a service office in mid-2006, and has struggled to keep the outpost afloat. That year, it named a managing director, Nick Simmonds, who died last year. Two years later, it named a creative director, Boyd Coyner, who exited after about a year. That didn't help efforts to diversify beyond GM, though the office did handle work for a couple other marketers, including Dutch cable channel Comedy Central.

Despite those challenges and a tough economic climate, Modernista in early 2009 made a play to expand the location into a full-service hub. "We think now is as good a time as any to go for it," Matthew Charlton, who led that office, told Ad Age in February. "For a top end creative brand like Modernista there is still opportunity for growth."

The decision to close the Amsterdam outpost has sparked a management reshuffle that among other things makes Mr. Charlton -- plucked from TBWA London last year to serve as Amsterdam's managing director -- the agency's worldwide president. He is expected to divide his time between Boston and London. Gary Koepke and Lance Jensen remain co-founders and executive creative directors.

Mr. Jensen in a statement said: "We couldn't be happier with the talent leading our agency and we're excited about the possibilities now open to us."

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen how big of a hit Modernista's Boston headquarters will suffer due to the split with GM. Other accounts include the National Park Foundation and TIAA-CREF.

In February, Modernista laid off 23 staffers, believed to be about 15% of the agency. There are now an estimated 100 people remaining, including full-time freelancers. The agency's Detroit location will continue to work on GM business through its contract period in early 2010 but thereafter it's unclear.

Modernista's work for Cadillac -- campaigns featuring actress Kate Walsh and hip music that helped the older-skewing luxury brand hit a youthful note -- is among the most lauded in the car category in recent years. GM invited Modernista to participate when it put the account into review in October, but the agency declined.

The carmaker is getting close to wrapping up the pitch, which is being managed by Ark Advisors, New York. There are three contenders left in the chase: Publicis Groupe shops Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Publicis, New York, plus Interpublic Group of Cos.' Martin Agency. A decision is expected next month.

GM continues to deal with management turmoil. Brent Dewar, VP-general manager and global coordinator of Chevrolet, and Michael Richards, as general manager of Buick GMC, will depart the company.

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