LOWE & PARTNERS/SMS: CREATIVE STYLE COMES TOGETHER

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Agency Rating: ***1/2

Lowe & partners/sms began to reap tangible benefits in 1997 from Co-Chairman and Chief Creative Officer Lee Garfinkel's efforts to pull together the agency's creative style with work on Mercedes-Benz, Braun and Sprite (remember "Jooky"?) scoring big. And the touch of Deputy CD Gary Goldsmith is clearly seen in award-winning print work for Sony Electronics.

Lowe took a blow with its loss of agency-of-record status on Citibank, after the client consolidated at Young & Rubicam, but compensated with additional work from existing clients Sony and Mercedes plus new clients a la Sun Microsystems -- a testament to the working partnership between Mr. Garfinkel and Chairman Marvin Sloves.

The agency also successfully opened a full-service office in San Francisco and boosted below-the-line capabilities by acquiring Diamond Promotional Group, interactive shop Critical Mass and direct marketing agency Fox Pavlika & Partners.

LOOKING AHEAD

Lowe's reputation as a creative shop should get another boost at the end of this year when Mr. Garfinkel is expected to rise to the top spot after the retirement of Mr. Sloves. The big question, however, is who will become Mr. Garfinkel's new partner with the departure of leading candidate Bob Jeffrey for J. Walter Thompson Co.

And keep an eye on Diet Coke, a brand that's actively playing around with other agencies; and even Sony, where Lowe booster Carl Yankowski was ousted recently as marketing head.

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