Holding-company refugees open shop

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The former CEO of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Momentum is hanging out his own shingle-one that reflects his distaste for big holding companies like the one he just left.

In his five years with Momentum, Mark Shapiro said he grew tired of the restrictions imposed by a holding company. So when he decided on a name for his new company, he settled on one that voiced his frustration. No Strings, what Mr. Shapiro labels a "tactically neutral marketing communications company," is slated to open for business by Oct. 31.

His plan for a new agency devoid of intra-company politics is part of a fledgling movement among holding-company refugees out to create their own next opportunity.

Jim Signorelli, senior partner of newly formed Ebel, Signorelli & Welke, Chicago, believes midsize marketers will seek out independents. Those clients "need that entrepreneurial rigor from people who can better relate to what they are dealing with," he said.

His agency is a merger of Ebel Dunnell Merrick and Creative Alliance, Chicago. Bob Welke, former creative director with Leo Burnett Co. and Euro RSCG Tatham Partners, is one of three senior partners.

86 The Onions, a Los Angeles "brand communications collective," was named to evoke the shedding of the layers that exist in many agency cultures, founder Chad Rea said. After stints writing for The Richards Group, Dallas, and at agencies overseas, Mr. Rea realized something: "While consumers and the way they consume media is changing, the advertising model is not."

And No Strings? No Strings is a "metaphor for objectivity, for tactical objectivity, resource objectivity, flexibility," Mr. Shapiro said.

momentum loss

Mr. Shapiro sold his sales-promotion and advertising agency, Louis London, to Interpublic in 1998; it was later renamed Momentum. His departure from Momentum came in mid-May, after what he labeled disagreements about the scope of the company's capabilities.

Mr. Shapiro said he wanted to offer image and promotional advertising, but executives at Interpublic's McCann-Erickson WorldGroup "thought that muddied the Momentum positioning. They have a number of agencies that are positioned like that, and they did not want another." Interpublic declined to comment.

Mr. Shapiro, who is still seeking investors, believes marketers can be better served by small, privately held agencies. His plan is to open a shop with a core capability in sales promotion and promotional advertising. For other disciplines, he envisions a loose affiliation of independents, "an open network as opposed to closed."

Mr. Signorelli said the lack of hierarchy between Mr. Welke, Robert Ebel and he is a good indication of how their new company plans to operate.

"We made that sort of a requirement going in," he said. "We are not looking to work for the big, monolithic man in the sky. We all bring a lot of experience, and we want a venue that allows that experience to be appreciated and acted upon."

With 50 employees, the company already works with marketers such as the local franchisees of Yum Brands' KFC and Sunbeam, and claims billings of about $60 million.

"We think one of our advantages is that we are a lot more flexible. We don't have the layers that have to be dealt with in a bureaucratic structure," Mr. Signorelli said.

When Mr. Rea opened 86 The Onions last November, he envisioned a culture where creative comes first and account management is the responsibility of everyone. The five-man collective has done work for Virgin Records and several computer-game and software companies.

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