His arrival this week as president-CEO at FCB marks a homecoming for the California native. He launched his advertising career 26 years ago in the network's Chicago office on the Sunkist orange soda account.
Much has changed since he left. In 1979, FCB had 22 offices outside the U.S.; today, it has 163. Back then, it was independent and privately held; today it is owned by publicly traded Interpublic Group of Cos.
FCB is now the eighth-largest network in the U.S., in terms of traditional advertising revenue, according to Advertising Age, and has global billings of $8.7 billion. It has a presence in 110 countries around the world.
`WHAT ARE THEY?'
But the weaker of the global agency networks built in the last couple of decades are fighting to retain their relevance. Networks that have died in the last five years-Bates Worldwide or D'Arcy, Masius Benton & Bowles-or are floundering (FCB's sibling, Lowe, or WPP Group's Y&R) raise the question of how many worldwide networks are really necessary.
"FCB faces the identity crises of other big agencies," said one former FCB executive. "What are they? What do they stand for?"
Brendan Ryan, now FCB's chairman, knows the business has changed. "I'm not predicting the death of 30-second spots, but more and more, you'll see increased emphasis on digital, interactive and data. It is really much more of where our future is going to be."
FCB has a foundation in direct and digital with FCBi, which started in 2000. But the unit, which operates in 28 countries, got a global leader only this past January, when Pamela Larrick shifted within Interpublic from McCann WorldGroup's MRM Partners to become chairman-CEO.
One rival said FCBi must gain mass, in employees and geographic presence, if it wants to be a threat to giants like OgilvyOne or Wunderman. "In today's market, quantity is quality," said the executive.
In many ways, outside America's borders, FCB's network is still relatively young. Until about a decade ago, the agency expanded internationally through an alliance with Publicis Groupe. When that ended in 1996, FCB management bought stakes in agencies around the world. Mr. Ryan calls it a priority to attract more business from more global clients.
In New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Irvine-the agency's primary locations-Mr. Blamer must "break down the silos between the offices and within the offices," said the ex-FCB'er. Another predicts San Francisco, which in the 1980s was one of the proudest offices thanks to work for now-departed client Levi's, will be shuttered. "He doesn't have the emotional attachment to San Francisco others had," said the executive.
"It's premature to speculate what Steve is going to do," said an FCB spokeswoman.
contributing: jim arndorfer and alice z. cuneo
* Blamer began his advertising career in 1979 at FCB, then an indie agency
* An exec familiar with FCB says Blamer must "break down silos between the offices"