Eisner giving up CEO post at ad firm

Briton to take over at family agency

December 20, 2005|By ANDREA K. WALKER | ANDREA K. WALKER,SUN REPORTER

Steve Eisner is stepping down as president and chief executive officer of the Baltimore advertising agency that bears his family name, part of a major restructuring at the end of a challenging year for Eisner Communications.

Eisner, who will become chairman, has hired British advertising veteran Jeremy Clarke to take over as president and chief executive officer.

Clarke has been an executive creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi and McCann-Erickson in the United Kingdom. He has worked on international campaigns for British Airways and Land Rover, among others.

"He can help us move to the top of the list of the best advertisers faster than me acting alone," said Eisner, who has been CEO of the firm for more than 20 years.

The move was made months after Eisner lost its biggest account - US Airways, worth $20 million - when the airline merged in September with America West Airlines under the name US Airways Group Inc. America West does its advertising in-house, Eisner said.

Shortly after the loss, Eisner picked up an account worth $5 million to $15 million in Florida-based Spirit Airlines Inc., which flies to the Caribbean, the Bahamas and Latin America.

Last week, the firm announced an account with Provident Bankshares Corp. of Baltimore worth more than $3 million in annual billings.

The two won't offset the account lost, however: The company expects total billings of about $300 million this year, down from $325 million last year.

Eisner has 25 fewer employees than it did last year, when it employed 125. The agency laid off five people last week, mostly in management.

Clarke wants to make the agency less top-heavy, eliminating many senior management positions to put managers in positions of equal power. As part of the restructuring, Clarke also is shutting three Eisner subsidiaries, Underground, Eisner Interactive and Eisner PR. The functions of those divisions will be combined under one Eisner banner.

"We're trying to integrate and bring all the advertising functions together," Clarke said.

Advertising veterans said the moves could help the company be more efficient.

"I always believed in having those resources in-house where you can coordinate them more effectively," said John P. McLaughlin, an advertising consultant who was once a vice president at Gray, Kirk/ VanSant (now GKV Communications) in Baltimore. "You need to get all the message points coordinated. It's easier to manage when you get it a little tighter under your control."

Eisner, who has helped increase the firm's billings from $20 million when he became president, will play a far lesser role in the development of campaigns. Instead, he will focus on bringing in new clients, mentoring young associates and strengthening the firm's marketing efforts.

Sidney A. Levyne founded the agency in 1939 as S.A. Levyne Advertising. Eisner's father, Henry Eisner, bought the company in 1966 and renamed it Eisner & Associates in 1975.

"I'm releasing to him the day-to-day product development," Eisner said of Clarke. "He will set the road map for the campaign development. He will have the final word on what gets sold to clients."

Eisner's restructuring reflects turbulence in the industry and the high stakes of having a single major account. GKV Communications was forced to shrink in 2000 after it lost its key client, Choice Hotels International Inc., the operator of Comfort Inn, Econo Lodge and Clarion Hotels. The company has since built its tourism business to represent three hotels and four destination accounts.

"The agency business in general is going through a lot of turmoil as a tremendous amount of advertising is moving to online," McLaughlin said. "The biggest problem I've seen in Baltimore in the last 10 or 15 years is that we have so many of our bigger clients merging. So all of a sudden what was two companies suddenly becomes one."

Eisner hopes his firm regains its footing with the changes.

"I've never felt more bullish about the future of the company," he said.

andrea.walker@baltsun.com

Timeline

1966:

Henry Eisner buys S.A. Levyne Advertising from Sidney A. Levyne, who founded it in 1939, after working for the company for 20 years.

1975:

Henry Eisner renames the company Eisner & Associates.

1978:

Steve Eisner leaves Doyle Dane Bernbach in New York to work for Eisner & Associates.

1983:

Steve Eisner becomes president of the agency.

1999:

The company is renamed Eisner Communications.

2005:

Steve Eisner becomes chairman and Jeremy Clarke is named president and chief executive officer.

[Source: Eisner Communications]

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