World: Stuart Elliott in America

By Stuart Elliott, the advertising columnist at The New York Times, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 01 October 2004 12:00AM

New York is the town where, the song goes, if you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere. Perhaps that's the strategy behind a sudden spate of shifts at the top of major agencies in the Big Apple.

Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Lowe & Partners Worldwide, Saatchi & Saatchi and TBWA\Worldwide all have new chief executives, presidents or general managers for, or in, New York. (In a couple of cases, there are new chief creative officers or executive creative directors, too.)

And some of those changes are triggering rejigs at other agencies, including Arnold Worldwide and McCann Erickson Worldwide, as they seek to replace - or cover for, at least for the time being - New York management that left for elsewhere.

The latest round of musical chairs comes not long after new faces arrived in the New York outposts of agencies such as Foote Cone & Belding, Publicis Worldwide and J. Walter Thompson. So what is it, something in the water?

Which, contrary to stereotype, is actually better in New York than in many other American cities. (It's just that with so many other options from which to choose at the city's fabled nightspots, who's drinking water?)

A glance at the calendar can offer reasons for some of the switches.

Summer, traditionally a time of torpor on Madison Avenue, is over and autumn has arrived with its need to gear up for the crucial fourth quarter of the year, typically a make-or-break period for many clients.

The new car model year, the new TV schedules, the new autumn fashions all are arriving, to be followed by the Christmas shopping season, which in New York usually begins about 20 minutes after the last of the Halloween candies and costumes are cleared from the shelves of the ubiquitous Duane Reade drugstores. (Note to British readers: Duane Reade is like Boots, if Boots were run by the cast of Are You Being Served?)

So a good deal of the executive-suite reshuffling can be attributed to the desire of the worldwide agency networks to have operations at their New York offices - in many cases, their flagship offices - in shipshape shape at a time they can ill afford any slippage. Like New York harbour, there may be a ship or two too many in that sentence.

Of course, some shifts are the result of particular circumstances. At Saatchi & Saatchi, Kevin Roberts, the worldwide chief executive, finally gave up on a sort of cabinet of managing partners for the New York office, which once had as many as eight members - c'mon, that's half as many as the President of the United States has in his cabinet. Most recently, there were two New York office leaders, serving as co-chief executives.

Roberts, often portrayed as Panglossian, to his credit confessed that the entire experiment, dating to 2000, had been a failure and it was high time to return to a more traditional organisational chart.

Besides, Roberts said, the new chief executive for New York, Mary Baglivo, has extensive experience in the market, which could help land clients based in the area, now virtually absent from the office's roster.

The giant accounts, General Mills and Procter & Gamble, have their headquarters in Minneapolis and Cincinnati, respectively.

As a New Yorker might say: "Minneapolis? Cincinnati? Where are they, Nebraska?"

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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