The anticipated name change to Ayer & Partners is only weeks away. But in the meantime, elusive investor W.Y. Choi is getting more involved in the U.S. operation, and discussions about Mr. Choi's Adcom investor group taking a larger stake in the Ayer Europe network are collapsing.
Mr. Choi's point man, Ayer board member Richard Humphreys, acknowledged that talks between Adcom and Ayer Europe will likely break off. Adcom currently has a 23% stake in the European agency network.
N W Ayer and Ayer Europe "really don't share any international business so there's no real client glue keeping them together," Mr. Humphreys said.
Although he maintained an international presence is vital to Ayer's future success, industry executives say Mr. Choi-the moneyed Seoul-based businessman who has pumped $45 million into the ailing agency-has decided to focus on stabilizing Ayer's core U.S. business.
Executives outside the agency said the choice is straining relations between an increasingly more visible Mr. Choi and Mr. Humphreys as Adcom's stake in Ayer increases, now at 80% from 60% early this year.
Ayer executives say Mr. Choi has already met representatives from cornerstone client AT&T. Other client meetings are anticipated. In another sign Mr. Choi is taking a more active role in N W Ayer, he traveled to Chicago to oversee its $1 million acquisition of Bentley, Barnes & Lynn's consumer unit this summer.
"We'd like him to get more involved," said Ayer Vice Chairman-Chief Creative Officer Pat Cunningham.
"Choi understands the need for an international network but, as long as not having it means we don't lose business and isn't an obstacle to winning more, he says, `Let's get this house in order,'*" said agency CEO Steve Dworin.
And a tall order it is.
Mr. Dworin is working with Mr. Cunningham, Ayer President Mary Lou Quinlan and Executive Creative Director Janet Kraus to right the agency after several bruising setbacks this year.
Procter & Gamble Co. slashed its Folgers budget by $30 million after foul weather felled coffee bean crops. That cut followed Ayer's January loss of Sterling Winthrop's $55 million Bayer account and last year's loss of $110 million in AT&T billings, which the agency hopes to recoup with the long-distance giant's 1996 Olympics assignment.
"Margins are lower than we'd like, but the agency is profitable," Mr. Dworin said, estimating U.S. billings at $700 million.
Ironically, Mr. Dworin, whose role at the former Deutsch/Dworin was to play straight suit to balance Donny Deutsch's madcap persona, wants to inject some of Deutsch's cutting edge style at Ayer, which "looks too much like a corporation."
Mr. Dworin and his management team are sifting through staffers' far-ranging suggestions for reinvigorating the agency: "Fresh Ayer" is offered by one as a slogan; another suggests bowls of fortune cookies throughout the agency; others want more moneymaking opportunities.
Toward that end, new programs will be introduced in September, including performance-based compensation; fewer executive layers; and title changes, including the addition of managing partner positions.
A change to Ayer & Partners will reflect the four senior executives' involvement as account handlers, not just agency managers, who will receive shares in Ayer.