True North pushes true cooperation

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True North Communications is launching an initiative to boost collaboration between its 20-plus agencies and units. The push is designed to get non-competing units of the world's No. 8 holding company to help sibling shops get work from clients.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 80 pieces of advertising, interactive, minority, promotion and public relations business have come from referrals inside the Chicago-based network, involving clients such as Archer Daniels Midland, American Airlines and Boeing. That approach has helped the network triple net new business in the second quarter and see revenues jump 10% to $375.1 million, said CEO David Bell.


For Mr. Bell, collaboration has been a rallying cry since taking office in March 1999. The new initiative will go into effect Aug. 2.

Allan Gardner, formerly exec VP-operations for True North Diversified Cos., has been named chief collaboration officer for the holding company, reporting to Mr. Bell.

Mr. Gardner said that while other holding companies fostered collaboration between their units, he does not believe any other had created so formal a structure.

"We're not reinventing the wheel. We've got to do it better and with more energy than has been talked about," he said. "Any effort to sell all of our services neatly packaged to any or all of our clients has become transparently self-serving."

Mr. Bell said he wasn't motivated by improving True North's bottom line, even though he boasted to analysts last week that 200 True North clients use more than two network agencies and that 25 clients used four or more.

"Our objective is to be even more important to more clients by being able to deliver seamless services across a broader range of" areas, he said.

The initial focus is domestic, with international possibly following later, Mr. Gardner said.


This week, True North will convene its 50 collaboration officers in Chicago to learn more about different units' offerings. Each True North group will have at least one representative.

After the meeting, they will be better "able to deliver a broader range of solutions outside of their specific disciplines," Mr. Bell said. "This is about best practices for delivering complete solutions."

Mr. Gardner, 62, who came to True North in 1997 as managing partner-corporate communications for Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhardt, said collaboration would help True North -- which reorganized Bozell and FCB last year -- meld brands and create a more unified culture. Until last year, the company's primary growth engine was acquisitions.

"Cultures tend not to blend until they begin to work together," he said.

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