AGENCY NETS PUZZLE OVER BRAND IDENTITY:CREATIVE NICHE OF CITY UNITS CLASHES WITH UNITED FRONT

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Top agency executives are trying to figure out how to build an agency "brand" out of largely autonomous offices that serve different clients in an agency network. Brendan Ryan, newly appointed chairman-CEO at Foote, Cone & Belding, is one of them.

"We have a very New York agency; a very Chicago agency; a uniquely San Francisco agency-I think we'd be nuts to give that up. But there have got to be advantages to working together, too," said Mr. Ryan, who has taken over the largest U.S. agency brand by billings, with $2.83 billion.

TENSION A PLUS

The story is much the same at other agency networks, with "creative" tension often a byproduct of seeking a cohesive image. While the parent organizations are busily marketing themselves as unified global networks, individual offices fiercely try to protect their unique cultures.

Branding allows the units of a mega-agency to collectively project the strengths that may be peculiar to a particular office, a uniform image not unlike that desired by the national consumer brands they serve.

"Our biggest opportunity is to build the consistency of our brand across North America," said Tom Carey, promoted last month to president-North America, BBDO Worldwide.

"Unification" and "working together better" also are priorities for D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles' North American offices, according to Chairman-CEO Roy Bostock.

Aside from cultural and personality differences, what has prevented such cooperation in the past is that most agencies handle different clients out of different offices. But agency executives say that means different offices tend to have different specialties, which could and should be leveraged on behalf of all clients.

BEST FOR PRINT

"It's no secret that BBDO in Los Angeles is our best agency in terms of print creative," said Allen Rosenshine, chairman-CEO, BBDO Worldwide. "Why shouldn't we make that expertise available to clients from New York or other offices?"

When agencies succeed in putting two or more offices together on a project, a New York office usually is involved. This most commonly occurs on the media side, because agencies tend to have their best media people in New York.

Agencies have the technology to facilitate interoffice coopera- tion. Most boast of their abilities to communicate between offices but quickly turn vague when asked for specific examples of actually doing it.

KODAK LINK

Mr. Carey notes that three BBDO offices worked together when pitching for part of Eastman Kodak Co.'s account last year. Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising's San Francisco office and its Team One unit in El Segundo, Calif., are currently working together on a Hewlett-Packard Co. pitch.

Such harmonious convergence is definitely guided from the top down. Mr. Ryan has directed his new worldwide creative director, Geoff Thompson, to find a way. Mr. Thompson, who recently moved to his new post from exec VP-executive creative director in Chicago, will among his duties facilitate cooperation between creative departments.

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