MDC Partners' KBS merges with Forsman & Bodenfors

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(From left) Mike Densmore, President, New York; Anna Qvennerstedt, Global Executive Chairman; Guy Hayward, Global CEO; and Silla Levin, CEO, Sweden.
(From left) Mike Densmore, President, New York; Anna Qvennerstedt, Global Executive Chairman; Guy Hayward, Global CEO; and Silla Levin, CEO, Sweden. Credit: Niklas Palmklint/Forsman & Bodenfors

In yet another major change at MDC Partners, Forsman & Bodenfors and Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal & Partners are being combined under one brand. The joint entity will now be called Forsman & Bodenfors, retiring the KBS name.

Anna Qvennerstedt, chairman of Forsman & Bodenfors, the Swedish hotshop acquired by MDC in 2016, becomes global executive chairman of the combined agencies. Qvennerstedt will oversee the board along with KBS global CEO Guy Hayward, who retains that title in the merged agancy. Silla Levin will continue to lead Forsman & Bodenfors Sweden as CEO. KBS president Mike Densmore will become F&B New York president.

The move eliminates the KBS moniker, which has been around in one form or another since 1987 when the original founders, Jon Bond and Richard Kirshenbaum -- then referred to as "ad brats" -- opened a shop known for bleeding-edge creative on brands like No Excuses, Moet & Chandon and Snapple before selling a stake to MDC in 2004. Five years later, the name was changed to KBS after Lori Senecal joined as president-CEO. Senecal, who later moved to global CEO at sibling CP&B, retired from advertising last year.

"We chose the F&B name simply because of their reputation in the creative community and in the client community around the world," says Hayward. The initials won't disappear entirely — the agency named a star "KBS" in the Corvus galaxy via the Star-Name Registry.

KBS' star has not been bright lately. Last fall, BMW put its account up for review, after the shop steadily lost other pieces of the brand's U.S. business. BMW appointed Goodby, Silverstein & Partners as its lead creative agency in the U.S. earlier this year.

KBS also saw a number of high-profile executive departures in recent years. The agency's worldwide revenue dropped 1.5 percent to $133.3 million in 2017 from $135.3 million in 2016, according to Ad Age Datacenter estimates.

Qvennerstedt says the merger with KBS makes sense because the shops are complementary. (Initially, MDC forged a global partnership between Forsman and MDC sibling Crispin Porter & Bogusky, but that ended last year, says Qvennerstedt.) The new F&B "combines a lot of different capabilities" including creative, tech and media, she says, and will continue her agency's "non-hierarchical way of working that unlocks creativity across the whole agency."

Hayward says the two agencies were first introduced at a MDC summit in Nashville this spring to find ways to work together, and kept talking further in the ensuing months. "It became something that had its own energy," he says. With a combination, KBS saw the opportunity to double its global footprint overnight, Hayward says.

The new leadership team oversees 700 employees across eight offices in North America, Europe and Asia. It will have dual headquarters in Sweden and New York. The agency's clients include Diageo, H&M, Hyatt, LG, Procter & Gamble, Vanguard and Volvo.

The new F&B will work with a number of partners, including The Media Kitchen, which will retain its name and offer integrated media buying and planning as it embeds in other offices. Digital transformation and product innovation shop Albion will also retain its name.

The merger announcement comes just days after MDC Partners announced its CEO and chairman Scott Kauffman will be stepping down — a change that comes as the holding company has had a difficult year. Kauffman called the advertising holding company's first-quarter results "unacceptable" in May, citing client cutbacks and slower conversion in its new-business pipeline. In its second-quarter earnings last month, the holding company said it was looking into possible dispositions of non-core assets or those that "might be more valuable in someone else's hands."

The Forsman/KBS pairing, as well as the move to bring back creative guru Alex Bogusky as co-founder and chief creative engineer at Crispin Porter & Bogusky, seem to signal a willingness to shake things up at the holding company.

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