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When Lowe & Partners first scored Coca-Cola Co.'s coveted $70 million U.S. Diet Coke account, the agency was widely regarded as Interpublic Group of Cos.' new "power brand."

One merger, seven Diet Coke spots and more than a year later, the agency is under mounting pressure from Coca-Cola. Living up to that image is vexing to the shop, now called Lowe & Partners/SMS. Last week, agency founder Frank Lowe rearranged the executive suites in hopes of a more prosperous new year.

In sudden management moves, agency President John Hayes, 40, left, and CEO Andrew Langer, 50, was elevated to vice chairman, a new post with parent Lowe Group. Heading the New York-based agency are Co-Chairmen Marvin Sloves, 61, and Lee Garfinkel, 39, previously vice chairman-chief creative officer. Mr. Sloves, head of the agency's Mercedes-Benz of North America account, remains a vice chairman of the Lowe Group.

A new president is expected to be named sometime next year. It was unknown whether the CEO post will be filled.

Last week's changes are seen as assuaging Mr. Garfinkel. Insiders say the creative chief was chafing under multilayered management and political wrangling. Mr. Hayes, with the agency for three years and said to have been considered for the CEO post earlier this year, said he will announce his plans after the first of the year.

"I've been thinking about this for three months," Mr. Lowe said of the changes. "I think it will be good for the agency. It will bring people together more."

There's a need for unity.

A top concern is the agency's status with Coca-Cola. Although two new spots for 1995 are in production, industry executives say Coca-Cola Chief Marketing Officer Sergio Zyman is talking with Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis, which is already on the marketer's roster. And he is considering awarding project assignments to as many as three other agencies.

But it's believed that instead of moving Diet Coke outright from Lowe, agencies would only be given project assignments for now. Depending on the outcome, the brand could be shifted later.

Agency executives vehemently denied any trouble with the client.

A Coca-Cola spokesman said: "Lowe is currently working on spots for next year; it's a work in progress. Perhaps these kinds of talks get started because of the approach we're taking [adding new agencies internationally]. The Caffeine-Free Diet Coke account move to Publicis, Paris, may have prompted some of this speculation. But if the work's moving forward-and it is-that speaks for itself."

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