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Agency Rating: 2 1/2

One step back, but two steps forward sums up the year for both Ammirati Puris Lintas and Lowe & Partners/SMS. They began 1999 as sibling Interpublic Group of Cos. agencies, but were smushed into one as Lowe Lintas & Partners Worldwide by yearend. Ammirati founder Martin Puris left as his name came off the door.

Each shop had its share of problems. Ammirati resigned the Iridium account after it dwindled from $140 million to just $10 million, and dealt with the resignation of Richard Hadala, a management consultant hired to head the agency less than a year earlier. Meanwhile, Lowe was dealt a heavy blow when Mercedes-Benz of North America moved its estimated $100 million account to Omnicom Group's Merkley Newman Harty, New York. It had its own management ordeal finding a replacement for its president, who quit in late 1998.

By mid-year Lowe hired two well-known and respected ad execs, Bruce Kelly and Rob Quish, to head North America and the U.S., respectively.

Interpublic announced it was merging the two agencies in October. The Lowe management team took most of the top spots; Nancy McNally, former exec VP-account services director at Ammirati, became general manager of Lowe Lintas. Well-regarded industry veteran Michael Sennott also joined the team from McCann-Erickson Worldwide to the take the No. 2 worldwide post under Chairman-CEO Frank Lowe.

Looking ahead

The new agency seems to be getting better already. Lowe's strong management and creative, combined with Ammirati's global network, have convinced most clients to stay put. Still on the fence, though, are two key ones: Burger King and United Parcel Service of America. Whether they stay or go will set the tone for 2000.

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