BILLINGS UP DESPITE BUMPS: LOWE & PARTNERS/SMS -- AGENCY RATING: 3 STARS

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Lowe & Partners/SMS kicked off 1999 with a bit of tumult. Besides the announced loss of the Diet Coke brand to Wieden & Kennedy, there was a messy public parting with former president Robert Kantor.

That said, Lowe had a pretty good year in '98. Billings increased by a reported $225 million, and account victories outnumbered losses. With its wins of Long John Silver's, Century 21 Real Estate Corp., Schering-Plough Corp. and Valvoline business, Lowe shouldn't suffer any viscosity breakdown in '99. The addition of Heineken admits Lowe to the beer category fraternity, while its Excite win, when combined with its Sun Microsystems business, expands its role in the technology category.

However, the agency lost its $50 million-plus Sony Electronics account last year.

LOOKING AHEAD

Chairman and Chief Creative Officer Lee Garfinkel is in sole command with the retirement of co-Chairman Marvin Sloves. Unfortunately, he now has to focus once again on a search for a president. He's also in the market for a financial

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