Campbell Mithun looks to loosen up

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stuck with a conservative image and struggling to grow, Campbell Mithun is gambling on an executive with a risk-taking reputation.

Jack Rooney joined the Minneapolis shop last month as president, overseeing day-to-day operations with a mandate to elevate the creative output of the Interpublic Group of Cos. agency and win new business. That's a tough task, considering it's spent two years without a chief creative officer and its director-business development left in late May.

Mr. Rooney, 46, is best known for his stint as VP-marketing at Miller Brewing Co. during the late 1990s. There he presided over the quirky "Dick" campaign for Miller Lite that was meant to connect with young adults but didn't spur sales and was killed after a two-year run.

But Interpublic executives said "Dick" was one reason they were drawn to Mr. Rooney. "There was a lot of fresh thinking brought to the table" in the campaign, said Eric Keshin, regional director, McCann Worldgroup North America, adding that Mr. Rooney was hired to "add a fresh perspective to Campbell Mithun and its clients." The agency reports financially to McCann, which worked with Campbell Mithun on the search.

aiming to be `robust'

Mr. Rooney has his work cut out for him. The agency posted $95.7 million in advertising revenue in 2003, up only 0.2% from 2002 and down 5% from 2001, according to Advertising Age estimates. It's lost business, most recently Schwan Food Co. And Interstate Bakeries, which owes Campbell Mithun some $3.6 million, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The agency, moreover, has fallen short in a number of recent reviews, including Kia Motors America. "None of us are happy with our growth record," said Campbell Mithun CEO Les Mouser. That's "one of the reasons Jack is here."

Mr. Rooney said the agency's first priority is to fill the post of chief creative officer. Getting a high-profile creative may be a tall order for a Midwestern shop that historically has been account-service-focused and has a reputation for playing it safe and conservative. "People don't look at the Campbell Mithun reel and get blown away by it," said one agency search consultant. "They need a real revitalization," said another.

"Clearly we are looking to become increasingly robust," Mr. Rooney said. "That said, that doesn't change that we proudly stand behind what we and our creative product have been doing."

The agency acknowledges it came close to reeling in Steffan Postaer, who created the Altoids campaign for Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, and was a top executive at the shuttered LB Works, but it didn't work out. Mr. Postaer, who declined to comment, has since become the top creative at Havas' Euro RSCG Worldwide, Chicago.

culture change

Improving creative requires changing corporate cultures. "Perhaps the most important part of the chief creative officer's brief will be to demand a higher level of performance, not just from the work itself, but also from the factors that influence the work," said Mr. Rooney. "That means more compelling consumer insights, sharper briefs and a higher level of ambition for every creative effort."

Mr. Rooney and Mr. Mouser said the slot should be filled by year end. Outside creative executives said Campbell stands a better chance of landing a name creative with Mr. Rooney, who has a track record with three San Francisco hot shops: Leagas Delaney; Foote, Cone & Belding, where he was worldwide account director on Levi Strauss & Co.; and Hal Riney & Partners.

He started at Miller in February 1997, inheriting the month-old "Dick," and worked with top-flight creative shops including Campbell Mithun's crosstown rival Fallon Worldwide (then Fallon McElligott) and independent Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore. He and other top executives left in a shakeup in spring 1999.

Mr. Mouser and Mr. Rooney are working together on new business, which is sorely needed. Current clients include General Mills (Doug Moore, VP-advertising and branding, said he is "committed to them as one of our key partners"), Burger King Corp., Andersen Windows and Alberto-Culver Co. The agency recently picked up incremental business from client H&R Block. But in addition to the loss of Schwan's $15 million account in Minneapolis, the shop's Chicago office lost the $10 million consumer portion of the National Pork Council business. It also lost the $50 million Orange Glo account when the marketer decided to focus its efforts on direct marketing.

But more than revenue is at stake, Mr. Rooney said. "We are one gangbusters campaign or a gangbusters new-business win from the reality and perception of growth."

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