Poppe rediscovers roots; cools interactive ardor

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Poppe Tyson is easing its focus on interactive marketing.

Buffeted by a failed initial public offering attempt, the departure of its chairman last week and increasing speculation about its future in light of merger talks between its parent Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhardt and True North Communications, Poppe is taking a back-to-basics strategy emphasizing its roots in business-to-business and technology advertising.

"What the company has done is decided that we need a competent management team that can not [only] hype what we're doing but turn the perception into reality on the bottom line," said Kevin Clark, chairman-president-CEO of the New York-based agency. "We're going to achieve better balance . . . going forward."

INTERACTIVE SPECIALIST

For the past two years, Poppe has portrayed itself as an interactive specialist. But growing internal dissension with that strategy came to a head last week as Chairman Fergus O'Daly left abruptly to take the new post of president of CKS Partners' eastern region.

Mr. O'Daly, a key proponent of the interactive focus and a Poppe co-founder, had been stripped of the president-CEO title earlier this month when BJK&E brought in Mr. Clark to run the agency. After Mr. O'Daly's exit last week, Mr. Clark added the chairman title.

Although Mr. Clark said Poppe expects to derive 60% of its revenues from interactive work for fiscal 1998, ending March 31, he said he believes focusing on the core ad business--and clients including 3Com Corp. and Toshiba America Information Systems' Computer Systems Division--will better position the agency for an IPO early next year.

One possible contributing factor for the shift: Poppe recently lost the Toshiba public relations account and is under pressure on its $30 million ad account.

Mr. O'Daly led the agency's first IPO attempt earlier this year. He acknowledged in an interview last week that Poppe needed leadership with more financial acumen to achieve its goal of going public. BJK&E management "saw Kevin as the guy to do that," he said.

Mr. Clark downplayed the role Mr. O'Daly and David Carlick, the exec VP-interactive business development who left earlier this year, played in Poppe's interactive surge.

`WHARTON WAS THE GUY'

"With all due respect for Fergus, Tom [Wharton, president of Poppe Tyson Interactive] was the guy who made everything happen," Mr. Clark said. "Both Dave and Fergus were not connected operationally with this company for the last year."

Poppe's revenue hit $37 million in fiscal 1997, up from $17 million the previous year, but it wasn't profitable, a spokeswoman said.

The turmoil comes amid increasing talk about a merger involving BJK&E and True North. If that occurs, the obvious choice would be to merge Poppe with True North's TN Technologies unit.

Mr. Clark last week indicated that Poppe could spin off entirely as a standalone public company in the event of a merger involving its parent.

"I think that Poppe Tyson is an extremely strong company. We'd like to keep growing [the] diversified service offerings that we provide to our customers. . . . Our goal here at Poppe short, intermediate and long term is to be a public company," he said.

At CKS, Mr. O'Daly will oversee the New York and Washington offices as well as CKS' latest acquisition, SiteSpecific. Tom Suiter will be president of the western region; he remains chief creative officer of the agency.

Contributing: Bradley Johnson.

Copyright May 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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