Y&R recruits BBDO's Patti to reignite NY

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Y&R Advertising, New York, has lured away Michael Patti, the creative force behind BBDO Worldwide campaigns for clients from PepsiCo to General Electric Co., as chairman-CEO, signaling a move to reinvigorate the troubled WPP Group agency on the creative and business fronts.

Effective March 1, Mr. Patti takes over Y&R's flagship New York office, responsible for managing both its business and its creative direction. He also takes on the title of worldwide creative director.

"Michael has brilliant creative instincts, a reel that is a source of genuine envy and a solid history of building strong relationships with clients that lead to memorable, brand-building advertising," said Michael J. Dolan, chairman-CEO of Y&R Advertising and its parent company, Young & Rubicam. "This move really stresses that we are committed to the product."

Mr. Patti, 49, succeeds Ron Bess, who moves to the newly created role of vice chairman-integration and business development at the parent company. "Ron will work with me on big client relationships, knitting together all pieces of the Y&R Group," Mr. Dolan said.

Jim Ferguson, president-chief creative officer, Y&R New York, since 1999, becomes executive creative director of Y&R North America, also a new job, but "one that really reflects what Jim's been doing in the past year," Mr. Dolan said. Mr. Ferguson will continue to work on key New York clients, including the National Football League and Cadbury Schweppes' Dr Pepper/Seven-Up.

Mr. Patti will have his work cut out for him at Y&R. His role is not just about improving the creative, but changing the culture of an agency known for its strong hierarchy and bureaucratic approach, something Mr. Dolan would like to change. "We don't want [Michael] to be swallowed up in administrative things," Mr. Dolan said. The agency will certainly be a change for Mr. Patti, who has built his career at BBDO, where creative is revered.

clear signal

"I'm coming in as chairman-CEO, it's a signal that cannot be misunderstood," Mr. Patti said.

One executive close to Y&R believes Mr. Patti will get the support to prevail in any battle: "What do you think needs to be done at Y&R? Which culture do you think is winning?"

A spokesman for Omnicom Group's BBDO said Mr. Patti would not be replaced. His most recent work was on GE's new direction for its corporate campaign and tagline, "Imagination at work."

Following the 2000 acquisition of Y&R by WPP, the advertising network and its New York office in particular have struggled to regain stability amid senior-management departures, changes and client defections. While in 2002 client departures were few, so were new-client wins, particularly in New York. Billings for New York were $1.5 billion in 2001, vs. $2.3 billion in 2000, according to Ad Age figures.

Mr. Patti "will make us better, stronger, able to deliver the kind of breakthrough advertising our clients need now more than any time in history," Mr. Dolan said.

Mr. Patti, who studied at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, is known for his work on Pepsi-Cola Co., developing commercials featuring actors Michael J. Fox, Madonna and, more recently, pop icon Britney Spears. But over nearly two decades at BBDO, he gained experience on accounts such as HBO, winning an Emmy award for the 1998 "Chimps" spot, and PepsiCo brand Diet Pepsi. He was also part of a team at BBDO that created the popular "New York Miracle" campaign, starring celebrities such as Woody Allen and Robert DeNiro.

Y&R clients include Colgate Palmolive Co., Computer Associates, Sony Consumer Electronics and Xerox.

"We've looked at the Y&R reel together. Michael's identified opportunities where he thinks the work can be absolutely state-of-the-art," Mr. Dolan said.

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