The WPP Group chief executive personally appointed 28-year-old Mike Troiano, formerly a special adviser to Mr. Sorrell, as acting president-CEO of the interactive unit, which had been leaderless since Senior VP-Director Martin Nisenholtz left last August to join Ameritech. Indications are strong that WPP will spin off the interactive group as a separate unit of the holding company.
"Right now, we are considering among our options a more independent interactive marketing group," Mr. Troiano said. "We feel the time is right to bring a level of service, a level of thinking, a level of execution that require the resources of an independent structure."
Mr. Sorrell couldn't be reached for comment, but Mr. Troiano said the group's future will be determined by the end of March.
A spun-off unit would serve not only WPP agencies-including O&M and J. Walter Thompson Co.-and their clients but also may have the freedom to seek business from outside clients.
Before bringing in new business, however, Mr. Troiano must stabilize a group that has suffered since the departure of Mr. Nisenholtz, the new-media visionary who founded the unit in 1983.
AT&T remained with the interactive group after pulling all other business from O&M when the agency won the IBM Corp. account last year, but departed when Mr. Nisenholtz left. Other clients of the interactive unit include House of Seagram, IBM, Kimberly-Clark Corp. and Chesebrough-Pond's.
Mr. Troiano doesn't have an interactive marketing background. He has served as an adviser to Mr. Sorrell for the past year and before that had account management stints at three agencies.