H&R Block's $100 mil review jolts Y&R

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Young & Rubicam will decide this week if it will fight to hold onto H&R Block's $100 million advertising account.

The agency was stunned last week when its client announced it had begun an agency review.

David Byers, Block's senior VP-chief marketing officer, expects to choose a consultant this week and complete the review by June. Mr. Byers, a former senior VP at FCB Worldwide, Chicago, joined the company last summer as the tax preparer readied a push into diversified financial services.

Block officials were happy with the latest work from Y&R that broke in January, but departures of the "key architects" of the campaign precipitated a review, Mr. Byers said.

John Matejczyk, senior VP-group creative director, resigned March 20 to join Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco; David Skinner, senior VP-group account director, resigned the next day to join an online-company incubator.

"We were clearly disappointed to learn of H&R Block's decision to put their account into review. While they have made it clear that they definitely want us to participate, it's premature to reply until we meet with all six Y&R Inc. companies that are involved with this business," said Howard Breen, president-CEO, Y&R, Chicago.


That meeting is expected to take place this week. Agency insiders said they feel confident they can mount a strong pitch based on their past work and knowledge of the brand. But they privately wondered whether Mr. Byers wants a clean break. Y&R won the account in 1996, during the tenure of Mr. Byers' predecessor.

The one-two punch of top staffers leaving was difficult, Y&R officials admitted, but the agency had up to 50 people working on the account, including Mark Figliulo, exec VP-chief creative officer, who one executive said had a "huge" role creating the latest campaign.

Y&R had already found an undisclosed replacement for Mr. Matejczyk -- a veteran creative with financial services experience -- who was due to meet Block officials Tuesday, said an executive close to the agency. Instead, the agency received a letter March 29 announcing the review.


Assignments in play are general advertising, now at Y&R, Chicago; media buying, at the Media Edge, New York; direct marketing and sales promotion, handled by Impiric, Chicago; Hispanic marketing, handled by Bravo Group, New York; and interactive marketing, handled by Icon Nicholson, New York.

"We're now a very different company than we were even six to eight months ago," Mr. Byers said. "We've now become a huge player in financial services and we have to review our alternatives."

Contributing: Hillary Chura.

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