The new charge: Fix McCann

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As John J. Dooner Jr. retakes control of McCann-Erickson WorldGroup, the man many call a consummate account executive will need to move quickly to regain the loyalty of agency employees and stabilize one of Interpublic Group of Cos.' core assets.

Neither will be an easy task.

Mr. Dooner last week was replaced as chairman-CEO of Interpublic and returned to run McCann, where he succeeds ousted Chairman-CEO James Heekin III. But while Mr. Dooner earned high marks when he ran McCann from 1995 to 2000, many current employees had grown loyal to Mr. Heekin and reacted emotionally to last week's changes.

The Feb. 27 decision by Interpublic's board to replace Mr. Heekin with Mr. Dooner left "longtime employees, women and men, crying in the hallways," according to one insider; that account was confirmed by several agency executives.

`it's not fair'

"A lot of people at McCann will be disappointed," said another McCann executive who asked not to be named. "Jim is the best there is in the business. ... He is a real strong motivator with very good people skills and people who work for him will walk over hot coals for him."

"In a year of restatements and write-offs, somebody was going to have to go," another executive said. "It ended up being Jim and not John. It's not fair, but I don't think these things ever are."

A big challenge Mr. Dooner faces is to forge better relationships in his own building. Mr. Dooner could not be reached for comment. Mr. Heekin declined to comment.

One option for Mr. Dooner is to surround himself with executives more loyal to him while taking steps to boost the agency's image and strengthen its creative output. He dined last week with Jeff Weiss, executive creative director at Interpublic's Amster Yard, and is expected to lure him to McCann in a senior creative capacity. Mr. Weiss declined to comment.

Berlin Cameron/Red Cell Co-Chief Executive Lee Daley, who worked with Messrs. Dooner and Heekin at McCann, believes Mr. Dooner can right McCann. "He will bring something quite magical back to McCann."

Mr. Heekin was to become chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies in April. Instead, DDB Worldwide President-CEO Ken Kaess will serve a second term, a 4A's spokesman said.

a list of problems

Mr. Dooner takes over an agency that recorded $500 million in net new billings last year, winning reviews for Wendy's International and Major League Baseball, among others. But as head of Interpublic's flagship, Mr. Dooner has a list of problems he must address immediately, such as improving accounting practices in Europe offices (which led to a $181.3 million earnings restatement and a formal Securities and Exchange Commission probe); stopping revenue losses at diversified-services shops; improving creativity; and strengthening client relationships. Last month, McCann was dealt a blow when Coca-Cola Co. shifted its U.S. creative account to WPP Group's Berlin Cameron/Red Cell.

A McCann executive said clients were not flustered by the changes. "Most of them have already said that they just want their account teams to remain," the executive said.

Mr. Dooner's return from a holding company to an operating unit is not without precedent. Former Omnicom CEO Allen Rosenshine turned over the reins to Bruce Crawford in 1989 and returned to lead BBDO Worldwide.

contributing: alice z. cuneo and kate macarthur

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