Declaration of independents

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Hook up or die? The question once again came flying in the face of Dan Wieden last fall when a marketer he carefully nurtured in his agency for nine years, Coca-Cola Co., pulled $85 million in billings. The move came as the client consolidated at superagency Interpublic Group of Cos. to help offset Interpublic's losses of PepsiCo business.

Still, at a time when superagencies increasingly rule the marketing world, Mr. Wieden says he's resisted the urge to merge. "At the end of the day, politics and sharp pencils are not going to determine what agencies succeed and fail," says Mr. Wieden, president of the Portland, Ore., agency. "At the end of the day, the work has to succeed in the marketplace."

Coca-Cola was a key client at an agency whose business strategy is focused on a handful of blue chip clients, notably Nike. In fact, about $60 million of the work, the Powerade sports drink, is back at the shop-at least for now-following litigation between PepsiCo and Interpublic's Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide that hamstrung FCB's ability to handle the brand.

Mr. Wieden says clients sometimes come to Wieden specifically because they aren't satisfied with the "quality of advertising and thinking" they're getting from large agency networks. "There always will be a place for good strong thinking and independent decision making," he says.

Morphing into shops that mirror the superagencies is one way independents can survive. Wieden has built a small international network, with branch offices in Amsterdam, London, Tokyo and New York.

Another independent with Coca-Cola business, Berlin, Cameron & Partners in New York, last month sold out to WPP Group to become part of its Red Cell network. That gave Berlin Cameron a potent ally: WPP won entree to Coca-Cola last fall when the beverage giant, hedging its bets with Interpublic, added WPP's Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, New York, to its roster.

Independence hasn't stopped one of London's hottest agencies, Mother, from collecting more Coca-Cola brands in the U.K. than any other non-Interpublic shop. The shop also picked up Unilever business within the first six months its doors opened.

WPP is believed to be interested in Mother, though WPP Group Chief Executive Martin Sorrell wouldn't comment and Robert Saville, a Mother founder and partner, says no offer has been made.

Mr. Saville says Mother isn't for sale. "We're thinking about buying WPP," he jokes. "They need our help."

contributing: lisa sanders, laurel wentz

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