WORLD: STUART ELLIOTT IN AMERICA

Is the time drawing near for the Interpublic Group to get frank about Lowe?

Interpublic has struggled for years to right the Lowe & Partners Worldwide network, its second-smallest after the direct marketing specialist Draft.

But those efforts are complicated by problems still plaguing its US operations, now reduced to the single, flagship office, in New York.

Lowe New York has endured restructuring after reorganisation after revamping, punctuated by one merger, as Interpublic combined Lowe with Ammirati Puris Lintas, and then another, with Bozell. Each time, the hoped-for rebirth proved elusive as accounts and senior managers kept leaving - sometimes, seemingly faster than before the "improvements" were made.

Indeed, in the past year, an observer could be excused for thinking most doors at Lowe New York had been converted to exits. The roll-call of the missing includes clients such as Dell, Fujitsu, Jergens, Hellmann's mayonnaise, Valvoline and Verizon Communications, along with top executives such as Paul Hammersley, David Nobay and Rob Quish.

The trouble continued into the new year with another lost Verizon, as James Hilton might have put it - Verizon Wireless, the cellular company that spends more than $300 million annually on media advertising, plus the executive most closely associated with that account, Tom Bernardin, the chief executive of Lowe New York, leaving for Leo Burnett.

The Verizon Wireless loss was especially demoralising. Initially, the client insisted that other Interpublic agencies offer ideas alongside Lowe New York for new creative directions for its signature campaign. If that wasn't deflating enough, the company then declared it was "not completely satisfied" with the final concepts from either Lowe New York or its sibling, McCann-Erickson, and called for a creative review. Lowe New York declined to participate, sending the account and 30 to 40 employees to McCann; another 25 to 35 staffers are being laid off.

Now, a newsletter, the Delaney Report, says another account, Thomson SA (RCA consumer electronics), is also leaving, and a few others, unidentified, "might be in jeopardy". (That's separate from the loss of Gillette's Braun brand, out of Lowe London, and the looming global HSBC review.)

One of the few recent US wins, the new Voom satellite TV service from Cablevision; accounts inherited from Bozell, including a campaign to promote milk consumption sponsored by dairy farmers; MassMutual financial services; The New York Times; and the Perdue Farms poultry range. The largest remaining accounts are from what could be considered endemic Interpublic clients - General Motors, Johnson & Johnson and Unilever - which could be transferred elsewhere if the exodus becomes a stampede.

Word this month that the consultant McKinsey & Company is evaluating the Interpublic asset portfolio has set off a fresh round of speculation about Lowe New York. Some theories doing the rounds: a merger with Draft, or Deutsch, or a rebranding as the New York office of the hotshop Campbell-Ewald, based in suburban Detroit.

"Adversity makes us stronger than ever," Jerry Judge, the worldwide chief executive, wrote in a memo to employees. But, alas, even Samson finally met his match.

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