WELLS TO FOLD AS LAST CLIENTS BAIL OUT: AGENCY CLOSES MAY 13; OMNICOM SHOPS GAIN HERTZ, GEORGIA-PACIFIC

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With its last remaining clients walking out the door, Wells BDDP will be shuttered this spring, 32 years after it was founded by ad legend Mary Wells Lawrence.

Wells' slim hopes of survival were snuffed late last week when Hertz Corp., Toys "R" Us and Georgia-Pacific Corp. exited the agency. Michael Greenlees, chairman of Wells parent GGT Group, put out a terse announcement late Friday saying the agency would "permanently close its doors on Wednesday, May 13."

HERTZ TO DDB NEEDHAM

Hertz moved its $50 million account to DDB Needham Worldwide, New York, which absorbed Moss/Dragoti, the Wells spinoff headed by top creative Charlie Moss. DDB Needham is owned by Omnicom Group, which is expected to finalize its $235 million acquisition of GGT later this month.

Georgia-Pacific moved its $30 million in billings to Omnicom's BBDO South, Atlanta, a finalist in a review for the account last year.

Toys "R" Us shifted its $26 million account to Kaplan Thaler Group, the New York-based start-up headed by former Wells Executive Creative Director Linda Kaplan Thaler.

Another Moss/Dragoti client, cable TV's History Channel, also moved to DDB Needham.

Ironically, it was while working at DDB in the 1960s that Mr. Moss met Ms. Wells; both left Jack Tinker & Partners, New York, in 1966 to co-found Wells, Rich, Greene.

WRG was born during the height of the '60s creative revolution and made its mark as the creator of such memorable taglines as "I love New York," "Flick my Bic" and Alka-Seltzer's "I can't believe I ate the whole thing."

TURBULENT YEAR

The end for Wells came after a turbulent year during which the agency lost most of its billings and turned over top management (AA, Feb. 23). Wells was already reeling from several major account losses -- including $100 million in billings from Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and $125 million from Procter & Gamble Co. -- when parent GGT agreed to sell to Omnicom.

Omnicom's original plans called for the New York office of TBWA Chiat/Day to absorb Wells and move into Wells' offices after the deal closed. Hertz would not have been part of that move.

One Omnicom agency executive said there "were real issues with Nissan," a key client of TBWA Chiat/Day's Venice, Calif., office.

Mr. Moss is highly regarded by the rental car company, which insiders said would have tried to broker a deal to find his team a new home had it not been able to secure one within Omnicom.

Omnicom is working to relocate the 133 employees affected by Wells' shutdown within other agencies it owns. Wells CEO Steve Davis and President Bill Perkins, however, had not been offered new positions at press time.

Wells had less than $200 million in billings when Omnicom agreed to acquire GGT. Liberty Mutual Group dropped the agency just before P&G left, and placed its $27 million account in review. Shortly after the deal was announced, Tag Heuer USA moved its $8 million account to Saatchi & Saatchi, and Heineken USA placed its $30 million account in review, citing Omnicom shops' work for Anheuser-Busch.

CHASE GONE, TOO

Chase Manhattan Bank followed, placing its $40 million account in review; Wells had just made the finalists list last week, along with incumbents McCann-Erickson Worldwide and Grey Advertising, both New York.

Wells was not the main target of the GGT deal; Omnicom will leverage the international operations of parent BDDP to boost TBWA International. And it also picks up two respected U.S. shops: GSD&M, Austin, Texas; and Martin/Williams, Minneapolis.

Contributing: Alice Z. Cuneo, Jean Halliday, Jack Neff, Pat Sloan

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