O&M's Syndicate seen as 'experiment'

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For Rick Boyko, the origins of The Syndicate--Ogilvy & Mather's affiliation with seven small, creatively focused agencies--started with a "What if?" conversation.

Mr. Boyko, president-chief creative officer of O&M, New York, was chatting with Tracy Wong, chairman-creative director at Seattle's WongDoody, during a break in an awards show judging several years ago. As Mr. Boyko recalls, both wondered what it would be like to be in the other's shoes--for Mr. Wong to have access to the resources of a big multinational agency and for Mr. Boyko to preside over a hot creative boutique.

With last week's formal announcement of The Syndicate, believed to be the first such operation of its kind in the ad business, they and the others involved are about to find out.

The Syndicate agencies, each of which will remain totally independent, will work on various creative projects for O&M clients in North America, and will help out on new-business pitches.

The shops, in addition to WongDoody, are: Core, St. Louis; Hunt Adkins, Minneapolis; Grant, Scott & Hurley, San Francisco; Pyro, Dallas; VitroRobertson, San Diego; and Work, Richmond, Va.

LEFT OF CENTER

Plans for the syndicate were developed during the past year by Mr. Boyko and Tro Piliguian, president of O&M North America.

The Syndicate provides O&M with an inside track to the often left-of-center thinking of some of the best small agencies in the business. At the same time, it gives those shops access to O&M's international capabilities and resources in media, research, direct response and interactive.

"We get to work with large, national clients who already have their dance partners with Ogilvy, but may want to see some new steps," said Mr. Wong.

MOVING TALENT

O&M executives said the initiative is an outgrowth of their plan to move talent within and around the network in North America and to foster a greater degree of collaboration.

"We wanted to create a relationship with talent that we couldn't normally get," said Mr. Boyko. "Most of these people left big agencies to be entrepreneurs and run their own shops."

Messrs. Piliguian and Boyko said formation of The Syndicate is not an admission of creative weakness on the part of O&M, and creative staffers in New York and other North American offices shouldn't feel threatened by it.

"We're doing this to provide added resources. This is in addition to the already strong talent we have in the network," said Mr. Piliguian.

Reaction from industry observers was mixed.

One small agency partner said that while forming an alliance with hot boutiques was "a smart idea for O&M, I'm not sure it's so for the smaller agencies. It seems like it might dilute their own brands."

Jeff Weiss, creative director of Amster Yard, McCann-Erickson Worldwide's boutique arm, said it's O&M that might get burned.

"Clients don't want temporary relationships," he said. "If O&M brings in WongDoody on Kodak and WongDoody solves the problem, will they let WongDoody walk out of the room?"

Mr. Boyko views the syndicate as an experiment.

"The proof," he said, "will be in the work we produce."

Copyright February 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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