The agency's parent this week acquires Griffin Bacal in hopes of strengthening ties to common client Hasbro. The deal comes as industry executives said the toy marketer is conducting a confidential agency search for an unspecified account.
But even as DDB Needham was preparing to announce the purchase last week, New York office Exec VP-Managing Partner Mary Lou Quinlan stunned top management with news she's leaving tobecome N W Ayer president.
Ms. Quinlan, 40, is a linchpin on key New York accounts, including Johnson & Johnson, Seiko Corp. of America and James River Corp. In another blow, Madeline Miller, the planner for all three accounts, is leaving to become Grace & Rothschild's planning director.
Both women were said to be disenchanted with the agency's division last year into separate account groups headed by managing partners, including Exec VPs Peter Tate and Ken Kaess. Although Ms. Quinlan denied the restructuring prompted her move, she said, "I think that my leaving will cause people to say, `Let's be sure talented people here have a sense of growth and direction so they can feel good about what they're doing here."'
One senior agency executive said DDB Needham Worldwide Chairman-CEO Keith Reinhard will scrap the partner structure and name a New York president within six months. The post was last held by Berlin Wright Cameron Chairman Andy Berlin.
Mr. Reinhard said only: "I am disappointed that it's not the creativity, the ideas, that motivate people; it's the power."
The management losses could weaken DDB Needham's hold on the key accounts. James River was almost stolen by Ammirati & Puris last summer. At the same time, J&J was known to have been disgruntled by Mr. Berlin's departure. Mr. Berlin and Ms. Quinlan lured those accounts to DDB Needham.
DDB Needham held off telling clients the news until late Thursday after word of Ms. Quinlan's defection became public.
At Ayer, Ms. Quinlan replaces temporary President Patrick Cunningham, who returns to his role as vice chairman-chief creative officer of Ayer Inc. Ms. Quinlan's previous post will be filled by DDB Needham Chicago Exec VP-Managing Partner Dawn Hudson.
Mr. Reinhard said the agency was ready to match "everything" Ayer offered Ms. Quinlan, "But clearly, there was no way we could possibly offer her the title and the scope of a presidency."
That would have disrupted the restructuring, and these may not be the last departures that result from it. DDB Needham insiders complain the rejiggering curbs top career possibilities at the agency. Those limitations are known to irk creative directors Jack Mariucci and Bob Mackall, who may leave now that the agency has lost the House of Seagram account.
As for the Griffin Bacal acquisition, the deal is estimated at $10 million to $20 million. The agency's current billings are $250 million; Co-Chairman-CEO Tom Griffin estimated Hasbro represents $180 million of that total. The DDB Needham network has Hasbro billings of about $35 million to $40 million, while the New York office's total billings are $437 million.