CMO Connections

Keeping the culture intact

By Published on .

Deutsch may have inked the largest deal in its history Nov. 30, but for most of the 700 workers at its New York office-once described as a "frat house"-it was business as usual. Younger employees zipped along the office's cement floors on scooters, while 30- and 40-something executives took meetings in their glass-walled offices.

Sitting behind his desk, an unshaven Donny Deutsch looked uncharacteristically tired, yet spoke energetically about the future of the agency he has devoted his career to and that his father, David, founded in 1969. The 43-year-old executive insisted Deutsch's culture will remain unchanged under the ownership of the Interpublic Group of Cos. Mr. Deutsch said any changes in store will be "no big deal."

Mr. Deutsch, known for his brash personality and hands-on management style, said the agency will continue to follow the "leaner, meaner, smarter" path that has led to its exponential growth in the last decade.

"Hip" and "edgy" are among the words most often used to describe the critically acclaimed shop, which has expanded dramatically under Mr. Deutsch's leadership. Deutsch went from a small $12 million print ad shop at the beginning of the 1980s to a $60 million shop at the end of that decade. The '90s were even better: Deutsch ended the decade with $1.2 billion in billings. Since 1992, when the agency created ads for the presidential campaign of Bill Clinton, Mr. Deutsch has been at the center of a never ending stream of media attention. He is frequently called upon to comment on industry trends and speak about his agency.

Given Deutsch's past success, some in the industry believe Interpublic would be foolish to tamper with the agency or to try to exert control over Mr. Deutsch's management style. Yet, to some extent, evolution is inevitable now that Deutsch is part of a publicly traded company. Deutsch will have to open its books to Interpublic, which will incorporate the information in its own public reports. "You can't tell me this isn't going to change the culture," said one former Deutsch executive.

Deutsch prides itself on a unique culture-or "Deutsch DNA," in the words of some executives. One former Deutsch employee likened the agency to "a cult" because people who join become fiercely loyal to the company and its charismatic leader.

Real or not, protecting that sense of culture could be key to making the acquisition work. "You don't buy a great agency and then tinker it into the ground," said Greg DiNoto, a former Deutsch executive and now a principal at DiNoto Lee, New York. "Why would IPG geld a stallion?"

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