Ziccardi merges with Frierson Mee

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Good chemistry alone is rarely the only catalyst for a union, as the marriage, this week, of two New York City-based advertising agencies illustrates.

Of course, similar sensibilities are a major factor in any partnership, and on paper at least, both Ziccardi & Partners and Frierson Mee & Partners appear to be well-matched. Both serve clients largely in the high-end, luxury goods and publishing arena: Ziccardi & Partners' account list includes clothier Ellen Tracy, hotel chain Loews Hotels and publishing houses Bertelsmann AG's Random House and Viacom's Simon & Schuster, while Mumm's Champagne, Fortunoff and Coty are on Frierson Mee's roster.

"From the standpoint of our positioning and our client mix, we related very well," said Donald Ziccardi, president-CEO of Ziccardi & Partners, who is now CEO of the new entity, Ziccardi Partners Frierson Mee.

Mergers, as in the case of Ziccardi Partners Frierson Mee, are usually undertaken to fill gaps and thus create a stronger entity.

"We are strong in media and have a strong creative department, but we didn't have a meaningful brand and strategic planning department," Mr. Ziccardi said.

"It is youth and energy meet business smarts," said Kirshenbaum Bond Creative Network Co-Founder Jonathan Bond, who brought Messrs. Ziccardi, Frierson and Ms. Mee together. When the deal closes, the minority stake in Frierson Mee & Partners taken in 2000 by Kirshenbaum Bond will be paid out.

The addition of Frierson Mee & Partners founders John Frierson and Heather Mee will bolster the areas Mr. Ziccardi believes are weak at his shop. Mr. Frierson will serve as managing partner, overseeing media and new business departments, while Ms. Mee, also a managing partner, will oversee strategic planning and account services.

Since launching their business in 1986, Frierson Mee earned a reputation for nontraditional advertising. A recent print campaign for jewelry retailer Fortunoff, for instance, featured sex therapist Dr. Ruth and comedian Sandra Bernhardt in ads for the store's bridal registry. In October 2000, James Hitchcock, known for creating a popular "Fashion & Houseware" campaign for Target stores in New Jersey, joined Frierson Mee as creative director from Kirshenbaum Bond following partner and Creative Director Neil Kraft's exit. Mr. Hitchcock becomes executive creative director at Ziccardi Partners Frierson Mee.

The combined businesses will have 65 employees, offices in New York and Paris and $100 million-plus in billings, according to the executives. Advertising Age ranked Frierson Mee & Partners as the 187th U.S. ad agency in its 57th annual agency report, with billings of $87.6 million and U.S. gross income of $12 million. Ziccardi & Partners was not ranked by Advertising Age, but Mr. Ziccardi said his firm had $60 million in billings in 2000 and $14 million in gross income. "There's a critical mass issue," Mr. Frierson said. "Agencies frequently have to be of a certain size to get into pitches that matter."

Consultant Richard Roth of Richard Roth Associates, agrees. "Clients are looking for a broader range of services from agencies."

It is also a way to create bulk at a time when growth from new accounts is increasingly difficult. Because of the slowing economy, both Frierson Mee & Partners and Ziccardi & Partners have cut staff in 2001. "There's both an economic incentive to merge as well as the issue of time," Ms. Mee said.

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