The Player: Exec aims to make a match of D'Arcy clients and Dentsu

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According to lore among Los Angeles agency executives, Rick Colby, president of Dentsu's Colby & Partners, hires creatives who are not only talented but nice people as well, which has led to almost a dozen marriages among his employees.

Now, Mr. Colby, president of Dentsu's Los Angeles shop, Colby & Partners, has been asked to make a different kind of union work. Colby's parent company, the largest shareholder with a 15% stake in Publicis Groupe, and Publicis Groupe, which is phasing out the venerable D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles brand, have decided to shift to Colby some $20 million to $30 million in billings from D'Arcy, Los Angeles.

The four clients slated to make the move include gamemaker Activision, Best Software, Chandon wines and Western Union. A fifth, with billings almost equal to the four other accounts, electric-toothbrush marketer Sonicare, part of Philips Electronics North America, was consolidated along with other brands at Leo Burnett Worldwide.

The move is illustrative of the growing numbers of situations where, as a result of holding company mergers or reorganizations, marketers are finding that their accounts end up at shops they did not initially hire.

keeping `em happy

"Clients don't have to do whatever the agencies tell them," said Mr. Colby. "It's up to us to keep these clients happy and to keep them in the fold," he said, adding he is just beginning to meet the clients involved.

Diane Krause, exec VP-managing director, D'Arcy, called the Dentsu shop, though not a sibling Publicis shop, a "kissing cousin" with similar "size, orientation and culture." Colby was selected after discussions with involved marketers, a decision based on "the best interests of the client," as well as a desire "to keep the teams handling the accounts intact," she said. Colby, in fact, prevailed over Publicis' own West Coast shops, including Saatchi & Saatchi, Torrance, Calif., and its sibling shop Team One, El Segundo, Calif., as well as Publicis in the West, Seattle, and Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco.

The billing shift also presents another challenge to Mr. Colby: growth. Currently with billings of about $120 million, the D'Arcy accounts, plus the pending win of Japan Air Lines and some other prospects, could send the agency's billings to almost $200 million and over 100 employees, Mr. Colby said. Other Colby clients include Suzuki cars and motorcycles, Warehouse Music, and part of Target Corp.'s Mervyn's department-store account.

"When you're small, nobody expects you to be global," he said. "When you're huge, you're expected to have unbelievable resources. We can go either way."

As for the marriages among his current and former employees, Mr. Colby said "basically I hire people I like, people who are smart and good at what they do. I try not to hire jerks or creative prima donnas," he said.

Incidentally, Mr. Colby's matches have produced only one divorce as far as he knows, a record far better than the national average.

Fast Facts

Name: Rick Colby

Age: 51

Now: President, Dentsu's Colby & Partners, Los Angeles

Challenge: To make the parent company's arranged marriage work.

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