Agency Launch: Omnicom's Element 79 looks beyond PepsiCo

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The chicago agency formed to handle the PepsiCo food and beverage accounts that left Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide is formally open after months of legal wrangling and naming struggles. Now, Element 79 Partners must mine for new business gold to make sure it doesn't become a captive Pepsi agency.

The Omnicom Group agency (formerly dubbed NewCo) toasted its new moniker-which appropriates the periodic table element number for gold, 79-with Goldschlager, Cuervo Gold, Pepsi and Gatorade. The agency opens its doors with $400 million in billings-all from PepsiCo-in the form of brands such as Quaker Oats oatmeal and Life cereals, Quaker Chewy Granola Bars, Aquafina bottled water, Tropicana and Dole beverages. International brands will be based in offices in New York and one shared with sibling shop, Downtown Partners, Toronto.

But the intention is to bring in other clients. President-CEO Brian Williams said the 120-staff member Element 79 won't be a dedicated agency like PentaMark Worldwide, set up by Omnicom to service DaimlerChrysler. "It will only become that if we're not very good," said Mr. Williams. "Our priority is to get additional business."

Despite sharing a floor adjacent to sibling DDB Worldwide at its Aon building offices on Lake Michigan, Element 79 will be an independent agency reporting to the Omnicom board. "We are not part of any other network," Mr. Williams said, noting that the agency does purchase back-office services from DDB. He said the agency will "go with the flow" with respect to the pending OMD media-planning consolidation.

The Element 79 name was chosen to illustrate management's vision to run the shop by the golden rule. The formal christening of the shop ends a saga begun last September when PepsiCo yanked its business from FCB, Chicago, after its parent, True North Communications, was bought by Coca-Cola Co. agency-aligned Interpublic Group of Cos. Mr. Williams resigned as FCB president to lead the new agency under the Omnicom umbrella, prompting three lawsuits, which settled in November.

NO FINANCIAL STAKE

The partners, in addition to Mr. Williams, are Dennis Ryan, chief creative officer; Marty Sherrod, exec VP-managing director, John Fraser, exec VP-business development director, both who left senior posts at FCB; and Susie Rashid, exec VP-chief administration officer, from director of human resources at A.T. Kearney. Mr. Williams said none of the partners have a financial stake in Element 79.

GOLDEN ROLODEX

Known for an unassuming persona, Mr. Williams owns what those who know him say is a golden Rolodex. It likely will be a while before he bothers to use it. "We want to make sure all our existing clients are buckled down, until we make sure every brand is handled," Mr. Ryan said.

Staffed with some 70-80 employees who transferred from FCB, the agency could foreseeably pitch beverage, packaged goods, technology and financial services accounts. With Omnicom President-CEO John Wren eyeing account consolidation to drive organic growth, it's a good bet the agency will leverage those skills.

"I doubt we'd go after any beer," said Mr. Ryan, who worked on Anheuser-Busch while at DDB and Miller Genuine Draft at J. Walter Thompson USA during the course of his career. "And I don't think we'll be making any visits down to Atlanta," Mr. Ryan said with a laugh, referring to the Coca-Cola Co. conflict that cost FCB the PepsiCo business.

Fast Facts

Agency: Element 79 Partners

Owner: Omnicom Group

Billings: $400 million from PepsiCo

Staffers: 120

President-CEO: Brian Williams

Name derivation: Periodic table symbol for gold

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