Thursday, February 19, 2004

Provident sale has ad firm in a quandary



Cliff Peale

Gee Jeffery & Partners scored a coup with its early-February advertising campaign on behalf of Provident Bank.

The account, one of the two biggest for the agency here, along with Cincinnati Bell, was the beginning of what the Toronto-based advertising agency hoped would be a long-term relationship, setting the stage for more local corporate clients.

But Tuesday morning, when Provident said it would sell to Cleveland's National City Corp. for $2.1 billion in stock, those hopes suddenly were in doubt.

"That's what we don't know," Chris Heile, co-managing director of the office, said hours after the deal was announced. The Gee Jeffery office opened in 2001 to service Bell's consumer business.

Since the acquisition hasn't closed and it might be almost a year before Provident branches start changing names, the three-month launch campaign will continue. But it demonstrates how hard it is for agencies to get and keep corporate accounts, particularly ones that will grow.

"The hope is that it's a long-term approach," the other co-managing director, Dave Townsend, said. "We feel like this is really important from a local standpoint. Our designs are to be national in scope, but we want to be here."

Gee Jeffery also did the creative work on the "add-subtract" campaign from Cincinnati Bell that is plastering local media, particularly billboards. It employs about 15 people in the downtown Cincinnati office.

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With small-business owner Janet Reid about to take over as chairwoman of the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, the region's largest business group already is thinking ahead two years.

The next two chairs will come not from small business, but from two of Greater Cincinnati's biggest corporations.

George Schaefer, president and chief executive officer of Fifth Third Bancorp, will be chairman of the chamber in 2005. The 2006 chairwoman will be Charlotte Otto, global external affairs officer at Procter & Gamble Co., chamber officials said.

Reid is the first female and the first African-American to chair the chamber's board and said there definitely will be more.

"I won't be the last," she said.

Speak up

Both company executives and rank-and-file workers need the ethical courage to report bad news as well as good, Roger Boisjoly told a group of Xavier University business students.

Boisjoly earned attention as the Morton Thiokol engineer who objected to the design of the space shuttle Challenger before it blew up 18 years ago last month. In a visit to XU early this month, he told students to "jump up and down, scream, whatever you have to do to get their attention, to keep them from doing something stupid."

He described a conference call with NASA engineers the night before the Challenger disaster where engineers warned that the infamous "O-rings" sealing the rocket boosters might fail at colder temperatures. Morton Thiokol reported to NASA that data were "inconclusive" and did not recommend canceling the launch, he said.

He said there still needs to be more concern for product safety in almost all industries, driven from top executives. "Always, always tell your customers what they have a need to know, not what they want to hear," he said. "And tell subordinates you want to hear what you need to know."

Boisjoly was at XU for the school's Center for Business Ethics and Social Responsibility.

E-mail cpeale@enquirer.com




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