Mr. McBride, one of the brains behind such lauded campaigns as "Got Milk?" while at Goodby Silverstein & Partners, Levi Strauss at Foote Cone & Belding and Nike at Wieden & Kennedy, is negotiating with Omnicom Group to back a hotshop comprising four superstar ad execs, including his former creative partner on Nike at Wieden, Hal Curtis. Such a high-profile creative start-up is rare since the dot-com bust, although, of course this is San Francisco, the city that spawned Goodby Silverstein.
In addition to Mr. Curtis, those believed to have talked to Mr. McBride -- now executive creative director-North America at TBWA/Chiat/Day -- are Brad Harrington, co-president at WPP Group's Cole & Weber United, Seattle, and Alex Wipperfurth, president of Plan B (recently renamed Dial House), San Francisco, and author of "Brand Hijack: Marketing Without Marketing." Messrs. Harrington, Wipperfurth and McBride did not return calls for comment. Mr. Curtis said he has not made a final decision on whether to join.
The agency is expected to focus on branded entertainment as well as interactive, design and other elements at the front of the creative process. Mr. McBride has done some directing, including a music video for the Dave Matthews band.
Robert LePlae, president, TBWA North America, said Mr. McBride has not left the agency but declined to comment on negotiations in relation to Mr. McBride's prospective shop.
"They're still playing tennis and trying to figure out a way to keep them," one executive involved in the agency launch said of the talks between Mr. McBride, his partners and TBWA. The matter is expected to be resolved in March.
Seeking equity stake
A sticking point appears to be Mr. McBride and his partners' interest in securing an equity stake in the agency, which could upset traditional compensation relationships for other high-profile creatives at TBWA and Omnicom and has implications for other holding companies and agencies trying to keep high-profile creatives on staff.
The talks come as Mike Allen, president of TBWA's San Francisco office, is said to have decamped for the new Los Angeles office of Amsterdam-based 180, which is handling all of Adidas' $120 million U.S. business. TBWA has shared Adidas with 180 since it won the account in 2001. Mr. Allen couldn't be reached for comment.
Although 180 "is now handling the majority of the global brand work, the partnership between 180 and TBWA is completely intact," said Nicole Vollebregt, head of global public relations for the Adidas brand, including all of it in the U.S. "TBWA remains the global network for Adidas and the creative resource for our countries around the world."
TBWA president comment
Tom Carroll, president, TBWA Worldwide, declined to comment on the compensation issue, and said both Mr. Allen and Mr. McBride are still employees of TBWA. He noted, "We have a plan, but nothing is done. ... It's all in development."
It's clear a new shop could solve some issues for TBWA. The San Francisco office has been tapped for Motorola assignments, which would be a conflict with Apple, handled out of the TBWA's Playa del Rey office, because of the iPhone. TBWA has sequestered the Apple work in its Media Arts Lab, now housed in a facility separate from the main agency.
Another possible sore spot is the $1.6 billion Sprint account, currently at TBWA's New York office, now in review and expected to be pitched out of Playa del Rey. Sprint competes with AT&T (formerly Cingular Wireless), which is partnering with Apple on its iPhone.