Small agency wins big: Chase finds a friend in McGarry

By Published on .

Sometimes the right relationship is everything, and not just when it comes to cashing checks.

The news that Chase Manhattan Bank, a division of JPMorgan Chase, passed over two large ad agencies and an incumbent to award its retail and credit card businesses to a relatively small, independent shop caught more than a few observers by surprise.

But those observers weren't aware of the deep ties between New York-based McGarry Bowen and a bank executive who was critical in the decision-making process. William Campbell, card chairman and a member of Chase's executive committee, goes way back with agency CEO John McGarry, the former president of Young & Rubicam.

Their relationship extends at least to the 1990s, when Mr. Campbell was an executive at Philip Morris Cos. and Y&R was the tobacco company's ad agency. It continued when Mr. Campbell moved to Citicorp. In 1997 the company named Y&R its agency of record. Upon Mr. McGarry's retirement from Y&R in 1998, Mr. Campbell lauded him in a published report, saying, "The client could not have a better friend." (Mr. Campbell later moved to Bank One and landed at Chase when it acquired Bank One.)

Executives close to the Chase review, which was handled by a committee of executives from the company's various units, said that this friendship was a key factor in the decision that landed the small agency the account, estimated at $300 million. That eliminated Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, New York; Interpublic Group of Cos' Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Boston; and Gardner Nelson & Partners, an independent handling Bank One.

testament

These executives were careful not to disparage McGarry's pitch or allege anything unseemly, but their accounts suggest that the fate of the business can still come down to a friendship. And in one way, they're also a testament to John McGarry's skill with clients and new business, something that those who know him attest to.

"John is a great client handler," said Avi Dan, managing partner at WPP Group's Berlin Cameron/Red Cell, New York, and a former executive at WPP sibling Y&R, which was not in the review.

He is "the kind of guy who would hop on a plane at a moment's notice to solve a problem or spend a weekend hunting or fishing with a client," said Mr. Dan.

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