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Brian Goodall: " There are a vey few creative people who have the inclination or training to assume the responsibility of being an executive creative director." Rick Boyko: When Berlin Wirght Cameron came calling , Ogilvy and Mather is said to have promised this creative leader a unit of his own. Eric Weber: Foote, Cone & Belding searched high and low before hiring him as its creative leader. But his star didn't shine for long. STAR SEARCH DESPITE WINDFALL OF LAYOFFS AND CUTBACKS, DEARTH OF TALENT LEAVES AD AGENCIES WITH ROOM AT THE TOP AND NO ONE TO FILL IT

By Published on .

Not long after Tony Vanderwarker left Bayer Bess Vanderwarker in May 1992, the agency started an arduous, cross-country search for an executive creative director to replace him.

It took the Chicago shop nearly two years to find someone in its own backyard: Mary Ann Quick, an exec VP at Leo Burnett Co.

Bayer's situation is familiar to agencies all over the country. Despite record unemployment in the agency business, top-notch talent, always in short supply, is getting harder to find. And key jobs in creative, media, account management and strategic planning are being left unfilled for months-sometimes years-at a time.

"There never was in the business a great excess of talent," says Philip Dusenberry, ceo of BBDO Worldwide's New York office. "Every year it's getting more and more difficult to search out and recruit top-notch people."

Those who acquire star status-and they no longer hail only from the creative side of the business-are swarmed with offers.

Steve Dworin, a former account director at J. Walter Thompson USA, New York, has become Madison Avenue's million-dollar man since he abandoned his post as president of Deutsch last month.

Attracted by Mr. Dworin's new-business record at Deutsch, New York agencies Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide; N W Ayer; Lintas; Campbell Mithun Esty; and Boston-based Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos all have contacted the 40-year-old executive about top jobs.

"I was taken totally by surprise," Mr. Dworin says of the agency attention. "I thought I'd have to take a step back and figure out my game plan. I was flattered that there were that many agencies interested in me."

The reasons behind the talent crunch are as varied as the job descriptions that are being left empty.

In these leaner years, agencies don't pay enough for prime talent, prompting the best and brightest college graduates and MBAs to seek more glamorous or lucrative offers in Hollywood or on Wall Street.

Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP Group, the London-based parent of JWT and O&M, addressed this issue at a recent conference: "Investment banks and consulting companies, it's extraordinary the efforts they go to to recruit people ... to literally wine and dine. We have to be much more aggressive in recruiting younger, brighter people."

Those who do enter the advertising industry are often shocked by the brutal waves of cutbacks, layoffs and downsizing.

"Why would a bright young graduate work in advertising?" asks Tim Elliott, president of advertising at Earle Palmer Brown Cos., Bethesda, Md. "We pay them less than they could get in another job, and we fire a huge number of people every year. That is not a recipe for a great career."

Top ad markets like New York and Chicago also are losing established ad people for lifestyle reasons, as many executives opt for the literally greener pastures of Minneapolis, Portland, Ore., and other markets that have spawned smaller, creative-driven shops.

"In the '70s, agency `stars' as we knew them came from all over the country to New York, Chicago and San Francisco, where the clients and the agencies were focused," says Susan Friedman, a New York-based executive recruiter. "Today, many of these `stars' are living all over the country ... where they can do great work and have a much better quality of life."

Training is another problem. Many large agencies, including Ogilvy & Mather, have abandoned longtime recruitment and training programs for entry-level staffers, citing cost pressures and the absence of new jobs to absorb them.

McCann-Erickson Worldwide is responding to the talent dearth by doing just the opposite. The agency this year is starting a new, multimillion-dollar training program called McEd for employees across departments.

McCann's training program includes account planning, an area Vice Chairman-Chief Strategy Officer Peter Kim says the agency needs to develop to compensate for an industry dearth.

Several agencies-including Chiat/Day, Merkley Newman Harty, DDB Needham Worldwide and Backer Spielvogel Bates-have imported Brits to head or form planning departments.

Executive recruiters say they were deluged with calls for planners in the wake of Merkley's IBM PC Corp. account win. The small agency's victory was said to be hinged on the expertise of partner Jane Newman, one of Madison Avenue's best-known planners.

The ad biz's instability has bred its own brand of insecurity, something that spooks promising talent.

"Before, agencies kept the best people despite the vagaries of the business," says Richard Roth, a Chappaqua, N.Y.-based agency consultant. "Today they don't; they can't. If the airline leaves, Joe Airline is out of work. If you're the soft-drink guy and the soft drink leaves, you're out of a job. It was never known as a secure business. Now it's impossible."

According to Harry Paster, exec VP of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, jobs at member agencies declined 5.8% between 1985 and 1992 to 65,667.

In theory, the growing pool of out-of-work executives, often at middle-management levels, should make it easier for those hiring to shoot for stars at less cost than in years past.

"Many overqualified people are applying for jobs below their [salary] station," says Bob Samuels, ceo of Milton Samuels Advertising, New York. "I've seen people making $125,000 say they'll come work for $85,000. People have and will sell themselves short."

But in practice, "what tends to happen is contractions don't usually put out the best people," says Chuck Peebler, ceo of Bozell Worldwide, New York. "Anyone who lets people go lets weaker ones go, rather than stronger."

Those perceived to have star status, like Mr. Dworin, are eagerly courted. But executives often are sought for top jobs with little regard for how well they'll ultimately succeed.

Creative prowess didn't translate into management expertise last year for two once-hot stars: Tony DeGregorio, former Lintas New York exec VP-chief creative officer, and Gordon Bowen, former exec VP-creative officer at McCann. Both were de-throned after relatively short but lucrative tenures in the executive suites. Neither has resurfaced with an agency job.

Another top-notch creative, Helayne Spivak, left her highly political post as exec VP-creative director of Young & Rubicam, New York, to return to the smaller, more manageable playing field at Ammirati & Puris, where she's creative director.

It took Foote, Cone & Belding two years to find an executive creative director after the legendary Lou Centlivre announced his retirement in 1989. The Chicago agency thought it found what it was looking for in Eric Weber, a respected executive from Young & Rubicam, New York. But Mr. Weber's star didn't shine for very long at FCB.

Earlier this month, he abruptly left the agency amid speculation he couldn't deliver what FCB management sought.

"There are very few creative people who have the inclination or training to assume the responsibility of being an executive creative director," says Brian Goodall, exec VP-general manager at Bayer Bess Vanderwarker. "They're trained to be joined at the hip with a partner and create. That's their mission for years and years. Here's a person who's risen to the top because of his or her creative prowess and personal accomplishments, then put into an ivory tower."

Installing someone in that lofty tower is even more difficult for large agencies that now must compete with smaller boutiques offering more autonomy to top talent.

Agency leviathans are trying to remedy that problem with spinoff shops-separate units comprising key executives and one or more clients from the larger agency. DDB Needham has one, Berlin Wright Cameron, as does Lintas with The Gotham Group.

These groups are set up to resolve client issues, but they also may keep the spinoff's brass from seeking more entrepreneurial opportunities elsewhere.

O&M, for example, is said to have promised Senior VP-Executive Creative Director Rick Boyko a separate O&M or WPP Group unit to keep him from defecting to Berlin Wright Cameron when that new New York shop came calling.

Mr. Boyko was "perfect for our needs but we couldn't outmatch Martin Sorrell and [O&M]," says Andy Berlin, chairman of Berlin Wright Cameron.

Mr. Berlin has been searching for senior creative talent here and in the U.K. for six months.

The problem, as Mr. Berlin sees it, is that since the recession, "creativity has become not just in vogue but a valued commodity. And as a result, you don't see so many creatives leaving one agency to go to another. ... And more are wanted by more agencies even than five to 10 years ago. So the demand for senior creatives has become greater even though the marketplace is smaller."

"It's such a big issue," says Sandy Wade, Chicago's top agency recruiter. "Agencies are looking for that special person who's going to come in and blend with the culture and yet change it. It's a tall order. But it's like getting married; it impacts everything the agency does."

The talent crunch is equally severe in media departments, which are having a hard time attracting qualified recruits and filling key positions. At least three large ad agencies have had to leave key media directorships vacant.

Following several years of rocky succession for its media director's slot in New York, Y&R was forced to look outside once again last September when Exec VP-Director of Communications Services Paul Isacsson left to form his own company. The agency searched for several months, then decided not to fill the post. Instead, it split up the management of the media department.

Similarly, when Richard Kostyra resigned as exec VP-director of media services of JWT, New York, the agency divided responsibilities between the heads of media planning, national broadcast buying, media research and other areas.

Lowe & Partners also left its media director's slot open after Jane Twyon left more than a year ago to form her own company. The job went unfilled until Lowe was merged with Scali, McCabe, Sloves, New York. The agencies' media departments were then consolidated.

At lower levels, the task of tracking down talent is even harder.

Agency staffers often haven't had as much of a chance to distinguish themselves under more senior counterparts, especially when they work on a more collaborative basis.

"We like to find people who are `about to become' as opposed to people who `have become,'*" says Martin Puris, president-ceo at Ammirati & Puris, New York. "That's always a little more difficult."

Unforgiving clients also have pressured agencies to pull out the stops in hunting top talent, even as they cut compensation rates.

"Clients are more demanding, and the business is more competitive," says Laura Murphy, a principal at the Baeder/Murphy recruitment shop in Beverly Hills, Calif., which reports a booming business as a result. "Agencies have to make the client happy with someone impressive running the business. Agencies are saying, `I want a star.'*"

Says David Suissa, chairman of Suissa/Miller, a small Santa Monica, Calif., agency: "Our definition of `good' has kind of changed. At the senior executive level five years ago, to be good you had to help run some accounts. Now, to be good you also have to have a great Rolodex and bring in accounts to justify the big salaries."

Mr. Suissa recounts the difficulty in finding an experienced account manager to run the agency's newly won Micrographx PC software account.

"Most of the techies are up north, around Silicon Valley, and they don't want to come to Los Angeles," he says. "The client started getting on our case a little bit, but we said we'd rather get it right than get it quick."

After a nearly three-month search, a consultant introduced the agency to a candidate it later hired, Scott Anderson from Drew Advertising, Santa Monica.

When it comes to account management talent, the East may have an advantage.

"It's easier to find top-notch account people in New York," says Leonard Pearlstein, president-chief operating officer of Lord, Dentsu & Partners, New York and Los Angeles. "That's because there are a lot more really large accounts in New York where people can get schooled. It's always been that way, but even more so now than five years ago."

The talent crunch won't last forever. Some believe a new crop of top-quality executives is awaiting a generational shift that will thrust them into the limelight.

"There's a whole bright, young generation coming in on the threshold of making real contributions, and about to burst in the next few years," Mr. Puris says. "That will be a real good help to the business."

Christy Fisher, Cleveland Horton, Julie Liesse, Joe Mandese and Pat Sloan contributed to this story.

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