World: Stuart Elliott in America

Decades ago, when BBDO was known as Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn, Jack Benny - or was it Alexander Woolcott? - used to say the name sounded like a trunk falling downstairs. That sound you hear nowadays from BBDO is the clamour still resonating after the abrupt decision to replace the veteran creative leader Ted Sann with David Lubars.

The strategic shake-up symbolised by unceremoniously sending away Sann after 34 years, and hiring Lubars from Fallon Worldwide, where he'd been Pat Fallon's heir apparent, will one day be seen as a seminal moment in the history of BBDO. Sann's departure was the third in two years for a senior member of management, coming after the voluntary retirement in 2002 of his creative predecessor, Phil Dusenberry, and the sudden exit during the winter of Bill Katz, the New York office's president-chief executive, with no other job lined up.

In addition, several executives have been wooed to BBDO from other shops, among them Eric Silver from Saatchi & Saatchi and Joe Garcia and Gary Topolewski, both from Chemistri, the Publicis shop dedicated to General Motors. (Lubars is an outsider but also a former insider, having worked for the BBDO West division in Los Angeles from 1993 to 1998, when he left for Fallon.)

"This is a real changing of the guard," a former BBDO executive said, who admitted "I almost dropped dead" upon being told of what quickly became perceived as Sann's ouster. "Andrew is in the driver's seat," the former executive said, "and he can do what he wants."

Andrew is, of course, Andrew Robertson, who assumed the title of chief executive at BBDO just nine days before Sann skedaddled. It now should be clear to anyone who knows which soft drink declares "It's the cola" and which credit card says "It's everywhere you want to be" that Robertson, who is 43, was brought into BBDO by its chairman, Allen Rosenshine, who handed over his chief executive's duties to Robertson, and by John Wren, the chief executive of its parent, Omnicom Group, to provide the perspective of a new generation.

At least one clever headline writer noted the irony attached to the fact that Sann, who wrote "The choice of a new generation" for Pepsi-Cola, was himself the victim of a new-generational makeover. Even more startling is the idea that the man known as "Mr Super Bowl", for helping create 30 Super Sunday spots for clients that, in addition to Pepsi-Cola, include FedEx, Mars and Visa, was axed by the agency best known for its facility in producing those glitzy, celebrity-filled, music-drenched messages.

And that seems to be the crux of the creative shift, as clients tell BBDO, long admired for churning out glossy 30-second TV commercials, it must build up its arsenal in other weapons such as branded entertainment, interactive and viral marketing.

At Fallon, Lubars, 45, developed a reputation for championing risk-taking, non-traditional work, most notably the acclaimed "BMW Films" series Fallon put up on the internet. And it didn't hurt that Rosenshine, as the former BBDO executive put it, "loved Lubars, thought the world of him and was crushed when he left".

Robertson, for his part, acknowledged the shift was made "to make sure we're paving the way for the future".

And in paving work, there's always the peril someone may end up as road kill.

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