Player Profile: Y&R buzz-builder Partilla takes on Sony's account

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One January day in 1999, over lunch at Manhattan's Union League Club, John Partilla told his boss Ed Vick, then chief operating officer of Young & Rubicam, that he was feeling restless.

After 13 years at the only agency he had known since graduating from college, Mr. Partilla wondered what new challenges were to be found. Mr. Vick's advice, remembers Mr. Partilla: "Create your own opportunity here."

By the end of the year, Brand Buzz, the new guerilla-marketing unit of WPP Group's Y&R Advertising, New York, was born.

"I'd been in new business for a long time and I was really looking for the next step here," said Mr. Partilla, who had been senior VP-director of global business development before forming Brand Buzz.

In the next year, Brand Buzz grew from six to 25 employees and, under Mr. Partilla's leadership, it demonstrated impressive public-relations savvy. One of its better-known stunts was to arrange for office buildings at the United Nations to position their inside lights to form, "Thank You New York" after that client's Millennium Summit wreaked havoc with city traffic for a week last September.

Now, the 36-year-old Mr. Partilla has taken on yet another job within Y&R. While continuing to run Brand Buzz, he has also taken charge of the agency's $100 millionSony Electronics Corp. account, replacing Cory Basso, who left to become exec VP-general manager at Bcom3 Group's D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York.

The shift, which came at Sony's request, makes sense since Mr. Partilla was instrumental in landing the account for the agency in 1997.

"Unlike a great deal of folks, [Mr. Partilla] comes across as very sincere and straightforward," said Ken Dice, VP-marketing at Sony. "He convinces you he's got your best interests at heart. With other agency people, you can tell they're thinking about their reel or their billings."

The high-voltage Mr. Partilla, who describes himself as a "fast-talking New Yorker," has also impressed his bosses at Y&R with his combination of earnestness and optimism. "There's an aura about him," said agency President Linda Srere. "He will create a situation for everybody to be a winner."

"He's very smart, but not cynical. He's very trusting," Mr. Vick added. "Unfortunately, in this business, a lot of people who live to be savvy, live to be cynical."

Up at the crack of dawn every morning, Mr. Partilla leaves the Upper West Side Manhattan home he shares with his wife and eight-month-old daughter to run six miles in Central Park.

"He's got more energy in him than an 8-year-old with ADD," observes his friend, Michael Duda, director of business development at Omnicom Group's Rapp Collins Worldwide, New York.

In the last year, Mr. Partilla has devoted that energy to building Brand Buzz. "I thought in the beginning it would be a hard sell and I'd be out there pushing it and pushing it, like a messiah."

Instead, he said, many clients were receptive to unconventional advertising and some have agreed to pay Brand Buzz fees for generating ideas.

His 15 years to date at Y&R are a marked contrast to his early childhood. His father, a career military man, moved the family 10 times before landing in Long Island in 1977. And while Mr. Partilla was never in the military, the example of his disciplined father seems to have influenced him. "There are a lot of whiners around today," said Mr. Vick, a former military man himself. "He just, whatever it is, he just sucks it up and gets it done."

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