Tech giants shake up shops

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After a rocky relationship of only five months, Sony Electronics has split with Fallon Worldwide, Minneapolis.

The move comes just as the crucial holiday season starts and Sony cranks up its biggest push in a decade with an estimated $200 million to support products including its Bravia and Wega TV sets, Walkman "Bean" music players, DVD camcorders and Vaio laptop computers.

Sony wouldn't comment on reasons behind the parting, although executives familiar with the situation said the electronics giant was unhappy with the agency's work. Rob Buchner, chief marketing officer for Fallon, confirmed its "work with Sony wrapped up" last month, but declined to elaborate.

The marketer enlisted the Publicis Groupe agency in June-Fallon continues to work with Sony in Japan and Europe-as it overhauled its agency roster after dumping WPP Group's Y&R, New York. The agency was hired along with Havas' McKinney & Silver to work along with its long-time small agency partner Bagby & Co., Chicago. Both Bagby and McKinney remain on the roster.

The trio was working independently and collaboratively on projects. "We're forcing our agencies and our own inside people to work together. It's a new culture and a new way to go to market," Sony U.S. Chief Marketing Officer Mike Fasulo told Ad Age in September. Mr. Fasulo, a 20-year company vet who assumed the top marketing post in April, launched and oversaw the Sony Style concept retail stores and online.

Fallon was put to work on personal audio products, including Walkman, the online music service Connect, as well as Bravia flat panel TVs. It is unclear whether Fallon creative for Sony has appeared.

Sony Electronics parent Sony Corp. named Howard Stringer as chairman-CEO in June and in September created a new CMO role for the parent organization, naming Sony PlayStation vet Andrew House to the position. Mr. House has echoed Mr. Stringer's pledge to bring the divisions of Sony together to leverage assets and operate more effectively.

Cruel blow

The parting with Sony is the latest in a series of blows for Fallon-and a particularly cruel one. Winning a spot on the electronics giant's roster was a welcome piece of good news after the agency resigned longtime client BMW North America. That split was triggered by the automaker putting the account-now with Omnicom Group's GSD&M-up for review.

Other clients have gone out the door this year. Dyson and Fallon mutually split in June. Fallon resigned Lee Jeans, another longtime client and creative showcase, in September. On top of client defections, the agency has lost a string of high level creatives and shut its New York satellite after the office's top two executives said they were leaving. That closure caused Starbucks Coffee Co. and PepsiCo to move the $12 million Frappuccino account to Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco.

On the plus side, Fallon has picked up Vanguard Car Rental, parent of National Car Rental and Alamo Rent-A-Car, and KitchenAid. It just recently won media planning and some buying for the NBC Universal TV account. And the New York Stock Exchange tapped Fallon to handle the announcement of its merger with electronic exchange Archipelago, an NYSE spokesman said. Fallon handles Archipelago. (Omnicom Group's BBDO, New York, is the incumbent on NYSE. The spokesman said there were "no other changes at this point" for its advertising.)

And highly regarded creative leader Paul Silburn, brought in last year from Omnicom's TBWA, London, has been attracting some top-notch talent.

Mr. Buchner said the health of Fallon, which has a roster including Citibank, Georgia Pacific and Purina, remains solid. "A number of our clients' budgets are up significantly," he said. "We're actually closing our year on plan." He added that Fallon is in a number of new business pitches but wouldn't identify the marketers.

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