McBride's Got a New Home ... Within Omnicom

Turns Out the Creative's Agency Won't Be Fiercely Independent After All

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SAN FRANCISCO ( -- It was hyped as a big, aggressive breakaway. Top creatives were decamping TBWA/Chiat/Day and embarking on a bold venture that would have a suitably aggressive name like Cutthroat. The ringleader, Chuck McBride, even brilliantly satirized the stories about the imminent departure by producing a widely circulated video of him amid supposedly slaughtered staff.

But as it turns out, the venture, which ended up with a decidedly less cutting-edge name -- Cutwater -- might be less about Mr. McBride and more about John Wren.

The agency is wholly owned by Omnicom Group (Mr. McBride does not have an equity stake) and is a convenient way for the holding-company CEO to skirt those nettlesome agency conflicts. In fact, Cutwater replaces TBWA/Chiat/Day in San Francisco, and handily allows the agency to pitch business TBWA's Southern California headquarters can't.

That's been a longstanding problem for Mr. Wren. While TBWA's larger Playa del Rey office has succeeded in picking up millions in billings for package goods, TBWA's San Francisco shop has struggled.

The smaller shop's cornerstone client, Adidas, has put most of its creative work into the hands of majority-owned Omnicom shop 180 Communications, which opened an office in Los Angeles to be headed by Mike Allen, formerly head of the account in San Francisco.

Recently, the San Francisco office began working quietly with a number of clients that pose potential problems, such as Motorola -- a clear conflict with Apple, which this spring plans to launch its iPhone.

"The conflicts were tough -- that's where my frustration was," said Mr. McBride, formerly TBWA executive creative director, North America. Cutwater, a name he said refers to a ship's prow, which breaks water so the vessel can pass smoothly, is a nod to Chiat/Day's pirate-flag heritage. He also selected it because the shop's goal is to navigate through today's turbulent marketing landscape.

Brad Harrington is president of the shop.
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