Siltanen/Keehn, an El Segundo, Calif., shop founded less than a year ago by former TBWA/Chiat/Day executives Rob Siltanen and Pam Keehn, won FreeInternet.com in January as its first major client. The Internet service provider promised a $50 million account for Mr. Siltanen, who created the Nissan Motor Corp. "Toy Story" spot and the Apple Computer campaign toasting "the crazy ones."
Siltanen/Keehn then birthed Baby Bob, a toddler named for Bob McCausland, FreeInternet's founder. Baby Bob, portrayed as a T-shirt-clad, precocious child who sat in a chair, was voiced by actor Ken Campbell. Spots ended with the line "Have a wonderful day."
Oct. 6, however, was less than wonderful for FreeInternet parent FreeI Networks, which filed for bankruptcy in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Western District of Washington state. Listed as No. 4 among its top 20 creditors was Siltanen/Keehn, owed $1.9 million.
Others on the list included a number of providers of telecom and data services as well as NBC, owed $1.6 million. Advertising Age is also listed among the creditors, but without a dollar amount specified.
Basketball star Shaquille O'Neal, who starred in some spots with the talking baby, was not listed among the creditors. Mr. O'Neal indicated last year he was trying to move beyond straight endorsements and into equity relationships with the companies he represented. According to an executive familiar with the situation, Mr. O'Neal had a contract with FreeInternet.com that allowed his Dunk.net e-commerce shoe site to be featured on the ISP. Mr. O'Neal's agent couldn't be reached at press time.
`DIME INTO A DOLLAR'
Mr. Siltanen said the money owed the agency is for creative fees only. The CEO-chief creative officer said none of the shop's 25 employees would be terminated.
Even after Bob's loss, Siltanen/Keehn is claiming billings of $55 million from clients such as Round Table Pizza. The shop is also a finalist for Jenny Craig's $25 million account.
The bankruptcy also hasn't derailed Viacom's CBS from developing a sitcom pilot starring Baby Bob. The concept "turns a dime into a dollar," Mr. Siltanen said, claiming that the agency will get a share of Baby Bob's future income.
The Freeinternet bankruptcy is one of the first public disclosures of the impact of the dot-com fallout on agencies. Numerous other dot-coms have shut their cyberdoors, but generally specifics of the ad losses remain confidential.
The impact on agencies is nevertheless real. "I'm sure there's not an agency in town that's not in the collections business," said Wayne Buder, president, Odiorne Wilde Narraway & Partners, San Francisco.