When WRG executives in New York told P&G in a hurried phone call that Chairman-CEO Kenneth Olshan was let go and replaced by Frank Assumma the previous weekend, furious P&G ad managers-said to include VP-Advertising L. Ross Love-demanded an immediate, face-to-face meeting and an introduction to Mr. Assumma, sources close to P&G said.
BDDP holding company executives, Mr. Assumma and other agency leaders, including Exec VP-Managing Partner Paula Forman-a former Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising executive beloved by P&G-were in Cincinnati at 8 a.m. the next day via chartered plane. But it will take more than one meeting to make P&G forget the way a man known to P&G brass as "Kenny" was sent packing.
P&G and Mr. Assumma declined to comment. But the switch comes as a P&G move toward agency consolidation gathers steam. Sources close to P&G say it wants to shrink its agency lineup from nine to as few as five. Casualties are expected on P&G's current roster of local agencies that includes WRG (AA, Sept. 11); one lucky local will be added to the global roster.
That BDDP would risk the ire of P&G and other clients is evidence of how urgently it wanted a change at the 22nd largest U.S. agency and how little it knew of U.S. client/agency protocol.
Citing disappointing results in Mr. Olshan's five years in charge, BDDP President-CEO Jean-Claude Boulet said, "We wanted someone with proven success in an advertising network environment who could aggressively grow the WRG business."
Until Sept. 22, Mr. Assumma, 42, was president-CEO of Bates North America where he was best known for leading the agency's Miller Genuine Draft account. He and others at Bates worked furiously for six weeks to keep the brand.
P&G wasn't the only upset client.
"I wish they would have told us beforehand....Wells has always done a fabulous job for us," said Aubrey Hawes, Chase Manhattan Bank ad director. "And I like Ken ....I hope this won't have any impact on our relationship with the agency."
Some clients are also watching how the relationship between Ms. Forman and Mr. Assumma develops, especially if Mr. Assumma scraps an earlier plan to have her lead a new unit comprised of WRG's Bastoni/Barnes direct marketing shop and the agency's package-goods staff.
Mr. Olshan has engaged a lawyer to deal with BDDP on his contract, which has 21/2 years remaining. "I was shocked," he said, "but the good news is I've been given 21/2 years of my life back."
Though for years there have been widespread rumors of BDDP's unhappiness with Mr. Olshan, officials publicly reaffirmed their support last spring when two WRG executives, President David Sklaver and Chief Financial Officer Tom Fagan, were accused of misappropriating $500,000 and forced to resign.
WRG gross income declined 30% to $92.8 million from 1989 to 1994; billings fell 4.8% to $841 million. WRG was one of only four top 30 U.S. shops to show a gross income decline in 1994. Though WRG's roster includes some blue-chip clients, such as Chase, P&G and Ford Motor Co., it has had trouble attracting new business.
Ironically, the agency scored its first big new-business win of 1995 two weeks ago, snaring the $15 million Heineken USA account and nearly derailing plans to depose Mr. Olshan.
Mr. Assumma said his top priority is "making Wells a true challenger to other global agencies." He said he will do that by restoring Wells' creative prowess once associated with campaigns such as Alka-Seltzer's "Plop, plop, fizz, fizz." Though no recent ads have been as memorable, work for Clairol's Herbal Essence has been well-received.
Pat Sloan and Jennifer DeCoursey contributed to this story.