Is McCann gambling with $1bn plus Verizon by exiling New York boss Gruhler?

Verizon is one of Interpublic-owned McCann Erickson’s biggest accounts (in total Verizon spent about $1.9bn on media in 2010) and the departure of New York president Thom Gruler means that the three top people on the account have all recently left the New York agency.

Adweek reminds us that Gruhler’s departure follows those of creative director on the account George Dewey and group managing director Kristin Rooney.

McCann shares the Verizon account in the US with Mcgarrybowen, currently America’s hottest in terms of new business at least. It has recently won Sears from Y&R Chicago and Burger King from Crispin Porter. Mcgarrybowen, which was set up by Y&R veteran John McGarry and is now owned by Dentsu, is seen by many as the kind of solid ‘don’t frighten the horses’ Madison Avenue agency McCann used to be.

So is McCann Worldgroup boss Nick Brien unwittingly playing fast and loose with the mighty Verizon?

The last thing McCann or owner Interpublic needs is to lose another mega-account following McCann’s loss of both Exxon and Nestle.

At Interpublic CEO Michael Roth will be aware of the disaster that attended similar management ructions at another of his networks DraftFCB. DraftFCB dispensed with SC Johnson handler Mark Modesto and his team at its flagship Chicago office and, after a protracted review, lost the $1bn business to Energy BBDO and Ogilvy & Mather.

Gruhler is said by McCann to be setting up a new ‘technology and telecoms practice’ within the agency which will presumably include Verizon. But very large clients are extremely attached to their conventional account handling arrangements and don’t take kindly to their account directors dividing their time between clients in the same sector.

Some McCann types expect Gruhler to depart in the spring when, presumably, a new Verizon team will be in place. That’s more or less what DraftFCB tried (and failed) to do with SC Johnson. This all looks rather testing for Brien and newly-appointed McCann North America boss Hank Summy.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.