Bates name may be casualty

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WPP Group's agreement to acquire Cordiant Communications Group sounds suspiciously like the death knell for Bates Worldwide in the U.S.

Although WPP Group Chief Executive Martin Sorrell said the Bates name will be "kept alive where it makes sense," it appears the agency will be folded into WPP's J. Walter Thompson in the U.S.

That would make Bates the third shop in seven months to have its name removed from the door here. Publicis Groupe shuttered D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles in December, and Interpublic Group of Cos. merged Bozell into Lowe Worldwide in February.

"Bates has been floundering for years, so this is not surprising," said former Bates Exec VP Jerry Gottlieb, now with McCaffrey, Ratner, Gottlieb & Lane. "It used to stand for something. It really is a great tragedy." Yet while its account losses in the last two years might not make this a surprise-Allied Domecq, Wendy's International and Hyundai Motor America, among others, have left-there doesn't seem to be a sense of anxiety running through the hallways of 498 Seventh Ave.

"It's not a D'Arcy situation, where you had people crying in their offices and reminiscing," one current Bates executive said. "At this point in time there seems to be a good feeling about going into a new holding company."

an industry great

Theodore L. Bates founded his eponymous agency in 1940, after being encouraged to leave Benton & Bowles by two clients with whom he closely worked, Colgate-Palmolive Co. and Continental Baking. With partner Rosser Reeves' "Unique Selling Proposition" concept, Bates grew into one of the industry greats.

Over the years, it produced memorable campaigns for Anacin ("Fast, fast, fast relief"), M&M's ("Melts in your mouth, not in your hands"), Certs ("Certs is two, two, two mints in one"), and Trident ("Four out of 5 Dentists recommend sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum").

Bates' pro bono work with the fledgling Peace Corps turned the slogan "The Toughest Job You'll Ever Love" into more than 1,000 requests for information per week by youths in 1965, according to the Ad Council.

Bates' greatest moment may have also led to its downfall. In 1986, CEO Robert Jacoby engineered the sale of Bates to Saatchi & Saatchi for $507 million, the largest ad-agency deal up to that point. Mr. Jacoby last year told Advertising Age Saatchi paid "twice what we were worth." Bates was the third-largest agency in the world at the time, with billings of $3.2 billion. Bates shareholders profited enormously, including Mr. Jacoby, who reeled in $110 million. Mr. Jacoby did not return a call for comment regarding WPP's acquisition of Cordiant. The Saatchis subsequently merged Bates with the small, but highly creative shop Backer & Spielvogel to create Backer Spielvogel Bates. It was not a happy marriage. "You had good people there, but it was a clash of cultures," said one former executive. "Backer & Spielvogel were image driven, Bates was in package goods. In the meantime, because they had been made so wealthy by the sale to the Saatchis, most of the Bates executives were retiring. So the Backer people were in charge, but they couldn't quite get a handle on the package-goods stuff."

Clients began to leave and the bleeding never subsided. The agency retains two major U.S. clients: Pfizer and British American Tobacco.

Former parent Saatchi & Saatchi Co. changed its name to Cordiant in 1995. Cordiant and Saatchi split up in 1997; Publicis Groupe bought Saatchi in 2000.

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