SCJ Won't Bend, So its Ties to FCB Might Break

NEFF LETTER: Growing Conflicts Could Put End to 50-Year Relationship

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CINCINNATI ( -- Few agencies and clients have had more passionately close ties than SC Johnson and FCB. The 50-plus-year relationship is one of the few left where the strictest rules of conflict seem to apply. The question is whether parent Interpublic Group of Cos. really can afford its high-maintenance client.
Ad Age Package Goods reporter Jack Neff.
Ad Age Package Goods reporter Jack Neff.

Interpublic Group of Cos. has been considering merging FCB with Draft Worldwide. But that would seem heretical by the old code. It would put SCJ under an agency roof with Procter & Gamble Co., which has made Draft one of its top shopper-marketing agencies. In the past, SCJ has been unwilling to tolerate conflicts even within holding companies, much less within FCB.

Meanwhile, FCB sibling McCann Erickson had been looking to keep its place on the roster of SCJ's fiercest global rival, Reckitt Benckiser. That wouldn't be unusual under rules of engagement accepted almost everywhere these days in package goods-except at SCJ.

Interpublic now has interceded to pull McCann out of Reckitt's review, according to people familiar with the matter. It's the latest example of how SCJ, which must be a great client in many ways, has brought woe to FCB or the people who own it.

McCann fell off the Reckitt roster in 2003, according to people familiar with the matter, because SCJ could no longer abide the conflict within Interpublic following its 2001 acquisition of FCB.

Last year, Reckitt acquired Boots Healthcare, and re-acquired McCann along with it. McCann was vying with Havas' Euro RSCG and WPP Group's JWT to stick on the roster.

Reckitt is now a nearly $9 billion company. SCJ, with estimated sales of $6.5 billion, may be a more lucrative account. Yet one wonders if half of Reckitt might beat having all of SCJ considering all the strings attached.

Besides its role with Reckitt and McCann, SCJ in the past 10 years is reported to have caused FCB to drop its Clorox Co. business and exit a review for Bayer, supported former CEO Bruce Mason in a boardroom tussle and scuttled an FCB/True North alliance with P&G-heavy Publicis Groupe.

SCJ has been declining to comment about Interpublic's latest ponderings in ways that sound ominous. "We've enjoyed a relationship with FCB for 50-plus years and we'd take a look at anything that would happen with FCB in terms of a merger or anything like that," a spokeswoman said. Asked whether Reckitt adding McCann permanently to its roster would be a problem, she added: "I can't speculate. We'll deal with what is when it becomes is."

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Matthew Creamer contributed to this report.
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