GUEST VOICE: The Last of the Mohicans, or Y&R bites the dust

By Published on .

No one can appreciate the plight of the 17,000 Young & Rubicam employees better than I can.

I've been bought and sold more times than Little Eva in "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

So I can't help but look on with amusement as I watch the gyrations of Y&R executives trying to be bought by the WPP Group and still remain independent at the same time. There are 4.7 billion reasons why this will never happen. Bought is bought, owned is owned.

It goes without saying that when this shakes out, a handful of the executives at the top of Y&R will be richer than their wildest dreams. By the same token, within the next two years at least one-third of the 17,000 Y&R employees worldwide will find themselves looking for a job.

Y&R is the last agency to succumb to a trend that started in 1982, when American agency principals, many of whom were energetic young pups at the end of World War II, woke up the same morning and realized they were growing old and feeling tired. The economy and the dollar were weak, and selling out in the U.S. was not a viable alternative. In London two young Iraqi brothers named Saatchi, aided by a brilliant financial wizard named Martin Sorrell and access to all the cash they needed, started to lick their lips.

I could have predicted the rise of the Saatchis because in 1978 I decided I needed an international affiliation and set out to acquire a London-based agency. Through an intermediary I learned that the best agency to acquire was a fledgling agency manned by two brothers named Saatchi. James Travis, president of my agency, Della Femina Travisano & Partners, had learned that they were interested in being acquired. I flew out to London. When I arrived I was greeted like a visiting hero.

After the first half-hour, where they outlined how a deal would benefit both of us, I remember thinking to myself, "Gee they're very smart." In the next half-hour, they went on to tell me the many different ways we could structure the deal. It was then that it hit me: "Oh my God," I thought, "They're smarter than I am." I barely made it out the door with my agency intact.

A few months later I read that Compton had acquired Saatchi & Saatchi. In seven months Compton woke up to find itself owned by the Saatchis. My instincts were right.

In 1986, my agency was acquired by Wight Collins Rutherford & Scott, a wonderful London-based agency that had high hopes of becoming the next Saatchi. This was offset that fateful day in October 1987 when the financial markets sank, and the dynasty dreams of the Saatchis and WCRS fell with them.

Next, my agency was acquired by Eurocom, a Paris-based conglomerate and that was no bed of roses. Suddenly, I found myself surrounded by more frogs than in the movie "Magnolia," and I realized that under those conditions all the money in the world couldn't make advertising fun. Today, five agency names later, I have an affiliation with Omnicom.

Advertising Age headline of the future, May 15, 2020:

"Donny Deutsch, 62, agreed today to be acquired by the English communications conglomerate WPP Group for $10.2 bil."

Donny Deutsch in London. . . . Perhaps there won't always be an England.

Mr. Della Femina is chairman-CEO of Della Femina/Jeary & Partners, New York.

Most Popular
In this article: