CLOSE-UP: TRIBUTE/PHIL REISS - Phil Reiss: advertising's legendary dealmaker. John Tylee looks back over the career of advertising's leading global matchmaker

Philip Reiss is dead and global agency dealmaking will never be quite the same again.

Philip Reiss is dead and global agency dealmaking will never be quite the same again.

For the president of the New York-based law firm Davis & Gilbert, who lost his 15-month battle with colon cancer last week at the age of 69, transformed the way that networks and their lawyers do business.

Reiss was present behind the scenes 16 years ago when the dollars 65 million mating of Benton & Bowles and D'Arcy McManus Masius to become DMB&B set the fashion for agency 'supergroups'. From the creation of Omnicom to last year's dollars 4.7 bill-ion sale of Young & Rubicam to Martin Sorrell's WPP, Reiss has deftly played the role of the unseen master puppeteer.

Not in any sinister sense. From the accounts of those who did business with him, Reiss was nothing like the ruthless Armani-clad lawyers who populate the novels of John Grisham.

Quite the reverse, in fact. Charlotte Beers, J. Walter Thompson's chairman, says she'll remember Reiss mostly for his generosity, candour and wit.

Shelly Lazarus, her counterpart at Ogilvy & Mather, says he personified David Ogilvy's preference for work- ing alongside 'gentlemen with brains'.

Sorrell, who was enabled by Reiss to build WPP into the world's largest advertising group, recalls him as combining the skills of a great lawyer with someone in whom it was easy to confide.

And Roger Alexander, a partner at the London-based law firm Lewis Silkin which has brokered many of Britain's major agency mergers and acquisitions, simply says of Reiss: 'He was a legend in his time.'

To the advertising community at large, Reiss will go down in history as the man who transformed the role of the lawyer into a pivotal one in any inter-agency negotiations. Where lawyers were once paid only to execute deals, they are now more likely to construct them.

Indeed, reliance on the expertise of the lawyer has never been greater.

Now UK agencies are following the lead set by their US counterparts and entrusting their deals to a handful of experienced and well-known practitioners such as Alexander and Osborne Clarke's Tim Birt.

'The corporate finance guy and the merchant banker are important in any deal but the key player is the lawyer,' Peter Mead, the Omnicom vice-chairman, comments. 'That's because the lawyer has been there and done it all before and will have great insights into the art of the possible.'

Although Reiss's name is barely known in Britain, even among the small coterie of lawyers involved in agency mergers and acquisitions, his influence on the way deals are struck on both sides of the Atlantic is profound.

He set a trend for lawyers to be proactive and to immerse themselves in the business of their agency clients rather than remain merely legal advisors.

Reiss was the agency match-maker par excellence, bringing agency executives together over dinner, linking those wanting to buy with those willing to sell.

His reputation as a keeper of confidences was reflected in the fact that his company represented more than half the major US agency networks. Never was the old adage that 'to have two clients in the same sector is a conflict, to have three is a speciality' more ably demonstrated than at Davis & Gilbert.

While it's always been the job of commercial lawyers to help clients understand the big picture, it was Davis & Gilbert that tailored its offering specifically to suit the advertising and marketing industries and blazed a lucrative trail for other companies to follow.

'The emergence of the media law firm in the UK over the past five to ten years has a lot to do with what's happened in the US,' Birt says, whose company played a key role in the formation of Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe. 'We've become business partners who also happen to have a knowledge of the law.'

Experienced agency lawyers can help in seemingly unexpected ways. 'If a client wants to build its direct marketing expertise, we know where they should be looking,' Birt says.

Alexander points out that lawyers are able to offer advice on more subtle matters - from helping to sort out succession management to other thorny personal matters. 'We'll always try to find a solution which takes the emotion out of the issue, enables people to think clearly and results in a solution that will work for all parties,' he says.

Birt cites the close involvement his company had with Rainey Kelly before its deal with Y&R as a good example of how lawyers' advice now extends well beyond just legal matters.

'We sat down with each partner, sorted out their personal priorities, their strategy and precisely what sort of organisation they wanted to do a deal with,' he says.

That's not what would have happened a few years ago and it is the go-getting US legal specialists who precipitated the change. 'You have to understand the big issues and where your clients are going,' Alexander says. 'That's something I learned from Phil Reiss.'


1985: Benton & Bowles takes over the problem-plagued D'Arcy MacManus Masius in a dollars 65 million deal which creates the world's fifth-largest agency.

1986: Three of the world's top 20 agencies - BBDO, Doyle Dane Bernbach and Needham Harper Worldwide - come together under a new holding company to be called Omnicom. Allen Rosenshine, BBDO's chief executive, anticipates the forth- coming merger frenzy with his famous quip:'We are the biggest, but maybe only for ten minutes.'

1987: Martin Sorrell pulls off the first foreign takeover of a major US agency with a successful dollars 460 million bid for J. Walter Thompson.

1989: Sorrell makes further inroads into the US by clinching the dollars 860 million takeover of Ogilvy & Mather. The deal makes WPP the world's second-largest advertising group.

2000: WPP is propelled into the number one slot after its dollars 4.7 billion acquisition of Young & Rubicam.


Phil Reiss was the chief counsel for the Needham agency which was the smallest of the three agencies joined together to form Omnicom in 1986. We were also the only one of the three that was not publicly owned.

Phil was key in protecting the interests of the Needham shareholders and he also represented me personally very well. I'll forever be in his debt.

When he first heard about the idea he was kind of blown away because at that time it was a monumental idea to put three agencies together.

It had never been done before. But Phil was a person who didn't express these emotions. He had this wonderful way of saying, 'Hmmm, what an interesting idea,' and then beginning to go to work immediately on what the role of Needham would be.

Phil was a marvellous person. I don't know how to describe the qualities that came together to make him such an effective counsellor, but I always remember that he was so quick to understand all aspects of a situation. Things I would never have thought of were things that he instantly brought to the surface. He would surprise me in bringing these issues up and then immediately suggest solutions to them. He had this way of being so tough.

His style was so friendly on the surface and yet his resolve, will and intelligence were very steely. He could not be moved.

One of the most tragic things that ever happened at Needham was when five people lost their lives in a rafting accident in Vancouver. I was in Bridgehampton in Long Island when I got the call that the five people had been lost and Phil was at his home. I called him and said: 'You've got to come to Chicago with me.' And he was right there by my side.

He was also somebody who was his own man and didn't need the glare of publicity and the spotlight. He was very comfortable to be the wise counsellor behind the scenes.

Keith Reinhard is the chairman and CEO of DDB Worldwide. He was the CEO of Needham Harper & Steers at the time of the Omnicom merger.