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Economists may disagree on the healthiness of the current corporate merger mania, but Weightman Group employees share an opinion.

"We are not much in favor of acquisitions," said John Goodchild, president-CEO of what, until 1992, was Philadelphia's largest ad agency.

It's not hard to understand why. Weightman has lost a string of national-brand clients in the past two years, in most of the cases after the clients were acquired by larger companies.

Weightman's billings have dropped 25%, from $120 million in 1994, to a projected $90 million this year, Mr. Goodchild said. Gross income fell 13% in 1994, to $15.7 million. And sources close to the agency say employment has dropped from more than 100 to about 50 in the past year, though Mr. Goodchild said it's closer to 80.

The agency finally scored a big victory last July, winning the $5 million Meridian Bancorp account. But merger mania has been rampant in the banking industry, and last week Meridian agreed to merge with larger CoreStates Financial Corp., leaving the future of that account uncertain as well.

If history is any guide, Weightman's chances of keeping Meridian aren't great.

The agency's recent client losses include: Mannington Mills, Salem, N.J., $13 million in billings, which went to Campbell Mithun Esty, Minneapolis, earlier this month (AA, Oct. 23); Golden Cat Corp., South Bend, Ind., $7 million, which went to Fallon McElligott Berlin, New York, in August after being acquired by Ralston Purina Co.; and Alpo Petfoods, Allentown, Pa., $5 million, which went to Dailey & Associates, Los Angeles, in January after it was acquired by Nestle.

Weightman also lost its $6 million Scott Paper Co. account a year ago when Scott consolidated advertising globally at a few agencies.

"You couldn't lose that many top clients and not feel a pinch," said Mark Plamondon, who left an exec VP title at Weightman earlier this year. "For all that to happen in a 12-month span is a horrible string of bad timing and luck. It was not a function of any dissatisfaction with the work Weightman was doing."

One client, however, did leave out of dissatisfaction: Wendy's International. Two weeks ago Wendy's settled a suit against Weightman alleging that the agency had inflated viewership numbers in post-buy analyses. Wendy's moved its $3 million Philadelphia regional account to its national agency, Bates USA, after discovering the problem in early 1994. Terms of the settlement were not released, but Wendy's suit specified $17 million.

"I [heard] the settlement was a good one for [Weightman] and that their lawyers worked out a deal that was far less of a disaster than it could have been," said a for mer employee of the agency.

Sources in the Philadelphia ad community said the agency is vying for a much larger chunk of the Sunoco business (it currently handles a specialty motor oil and corporate events) against other agencies. Sunoco would not comment.

Weightman did project work for Campbell's Soup Co. earlier this year, and a Campbell's spokesman said that while the agency has no assignments presently, it would be on a short list for future project work.

Two other clients-household-products makers White Cap, Lester, Pa., and Kiwi Brands Douglassville, Pa., said they are spending virtually nothing on advertising these days.

Mr. Goodchild said the agency isn't ready to fold its tent-or sell it. "There have been more discussions about us acquiring other people than the other way around," he said.

"There are periods when there are contractions in industries. That is a normal business cycle. But I also think there is opportunity, too," he said.

In fact, Weightman has been through this cycle before. Bob Huntington, managing director at AdMedia Corporate Advisors, a New York investment banking firm, remembers talking to Weightman about a merger when he was with Compton Communications almost 20 years ago.

"Their niche was package goods," he said. "They had some very good package-goods brands, regional mostly.

"Those clients would grow, and the big guys would come along, and buy them and eventually look for bigger agencies. That was 18 years ago."


A bad year

Client losses at the Weightman Group in the last 12 months include:

Mannington Mills, Salem, N.J., $13 million in billings.

Golden Cat Corp., South Bend, Ind., $7 million.

Alpo Petfoods, Allentown, Pa., $5 million.

Scott Paper Co., Philadelphia, $6 million.

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