In Wake of Dropped Lawsuit, Brian Williams Follows PepsiCo Account

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- After his former employer stopped its legal action against him, Brian Williams is now preparing to become CEO of a new ad agency within Omnicom Group to handle the PepsiCo-owned Quaker Oats Co. and Gatorade accounts.

Interpublic Group of Cos. on Friday dropped its lawsuit against Mr. Williams, DDB Worldwide and Omnicom after a Cook County Circuit Court judge denied Interpublic's motion for a temporary restraining order against them.

Last month, PepsiCo pulled an estimated $350 million of business out of Foote, Cone & Belding, Chicago, because the agency's parent company, Interpublic, is closely affiliated with archrival Coca-Cola Co. Mr. Williams resigned as president of FCB, Chicago, after Quaker asked him to lead the new agency at Omnicom.

Surprised by suit
While he was surprised by Interpublic's suit against him, Mr. Williams told AdAge.com that "in the end it turned out there was no basis to begin with."

"We decided not to pursue the case," said an Interpublic spokeswoman who wouldn't comment further.

Mr. Williams is still working out the details of the new agency and expects to have more information by the end of October.

"Obviously there is a transition period, 90 days [from when PepsiCo terminated its relationship with FCB]," said Mr. Williams told AdAge.com. He expects to have the new operation up and running by the end of the transition period.

"I'm excited. This is a great opportunity," he said. "It was not an easy decision. I very much like and respected and continue to like and respect the FCB Chicago office."

Others to follow move
Mr. Williams confirmed that Martin Sherrod and John Fraser, FCB's top account leaders on Quaker and Gatorade, were joining his agency. The two resigned from FCB Sept. 27. While they have yet to be assigned titles, Mr. Williams said "they were instrumental in helping to guide these businesses."

He wouldn't confirm other hires but said he has received lots of resumes from the Midwest and the East Coast.

To win its case, Interpublic had to prove that former Mr. Williams conspired with Omnicom and DDB to persuade Pepsi to move its accounts and to take key employees to service the account. The judge instead found that the client was forced to leave because of the Pepsi and Coke conflict, said an executive close to the matter.

"They [Interpublic] didn't have a piece of evidence to support it," said the executive.

Most damaging to Interpublic's offense was an affidavit submitted by its former client.

'Deeply uncomfortable'
"PepsiCo was deeply uncomfortable continuing to work with an agency [FCB] that was controlled by the Interpublic Group of Companies, which had a significant client relationship with Coca-Cola, PepsiCo's principal competitor," Massimo D'Amore, a PepsiCo senior vice president in charge of advertising agency relationships said in the affidavit. "Our decision to terminate the FCB-PepsiCo relationship was not predicated on the availability, or lack of availability, of Brian Williams or any other FCB Chicago employee."

Mr. Williams' lawyers argued that while Quaker's CEO told Mr. Williams that the account would likely be moved if the PepsiCo and Quaker merger was completed, Mr. Williams worked hard to keep the Quaker business at FCB.

Furthermore, Omnicom's lawyers argued that preventing Omnicom from hiring FCB employees would be unfair: "If employees of FCB are likely to resign, it is not because of any of the defendants are acting as interlopers, but rather because they knew, as many in the industry predicted, that the loss of the Quaker business would cause FCB Chicago to effect layoffs."

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