On paper, it's looking good. You're the CEO of the 12th largest PR
firm in the world, which belongs to a $1.83 billion-revenue
(2000) holding company, which owns no other PR agencies. You have four
ad agencies who can feed you referrals like worms into a baby bird's
mouth. Your own network has recently added 13 extra agencies through a
merger without having to hammer out a single deal. You report straight
to the CEO of your parent company without having to circumnavigate a
gaggle of ad men.
You're Lou Capozzi.
So, why does a look of sympathy flash momentarily across the faces of
those industry people who discuss him? "Poor Lou. Lovely guy," they all
say, and then almost joyfully outline the challenges he faces. Sure,
he's sitting pretty at the top of Bcom3's only PR firm, Manning Selvage
& Lee, but in this Weber/Shandwick/BSMG era (hell, even Edelman is
talking about selling now), it seems that being an $80 million
agency isn't enough if you can't grow beyond organic.
Capozzi seems frustrated when these criticisms are pitched to him -
especially since he disapproves of the whole mega-agency model. He's not
a go-getting empire builder; he's not an industry visionary with a grand
plan. He's just a regular guy, being a regular CEO, running a regular
He's also very popular, though some have noticed the raw ego peeking
through the generally modest, avuncular exterior. "He has a lot of ego,"
confirms an agency CEO who has seen him in action at close quarters.
"When people try to tell you how good they are, it makes you think of
the guy in the locker room who keeps saying how much sex he has - you
know he's not getting any."
However, every third word Capozzi utters is "sexy," and there's a
decidedly uncorporate glint in his eye when he says it. And it's fair
enough to have an ego when surely you've never applied for a job in your
Capozzi landed at MS&L in 1990 after ricocheting between agency and
corporate life according to who was offering what. Four years later, he
was bumped up to the CEO slot, which he first says was a shoo-in with no
question that the job was his, but then admits, true to form, "No one
was more surprised than me. I got ahead by accident."
He's proud, though. Capozzi is one of the CEOs who still speaks lovingly
and unblinkingly about the agency's "culture" (though he defines it
little beyond the general, touchy-feely sense of group love that such
agencies espouse). But he's very keen to say what the agency is not: "We
don't have an 'eat what you kill' attitude," he says, in the same breath
as talking about Larry Weber.
Capozzi actually sees himself as a cheerleader - a corporate
spokesperson for the MS&L mantra. A role that has been vital since the
formation of Bcom3. It's one thing to buy an agency abroad; it's another
to suddenly inherit 13 of the suckers through a merger.
Capozzi has admitted that it wasn't necessarily a joy to inherit a
number of far-flung agencies, all of which needed feeding and watering
and weren't necessarily fattening the coffers. "Leo Burnett never
managed its PR resources as a network," he says, puffing up with the
pride he feels having managed to incorporate the awkward stepchildren
into his family. But, he says, "It presents a serious challenge, and
causes us to stand back and say, 'Where are we going?'"
Where indeed? With no one major in his price range, quick expansion is
impossible. Sure, Bcom3 could do a deal, but while its own future is
undecided (the planned IPO, for which the deadline is January 31, 2002,
is far from a done deal), such a move is unlikely.
Capozzi is frank about the limitations of a $80 million agency
while there are such mega-accounts as the $50 million IBM
business floating around. While he talks about the "terrific
opportunity" being part of Bcom3 can bring, he admits that sometimes
"Leo's expectations are greater than what we can deliver. We can't make
as much happen as they wish we can."
Ah, yes, IBM. What on earth happened? MS&L was a lock for the research
part of the review - everyone thought so, including MS&L. Rumor has it
that the board room had already been stocked with champagne when the
news came through that Magnet had walked off with the business. Capozzi
looks genuinely teary-eyed when the subject is brought up, so he quickly
moves the conversation along. The derisive sniff is audible when he
talks about the lengths that some agencies would go to (such as setting
up a virtual mega-shop like Omnicom's OneBlue) to absorb a monster
account the size of the main IBM business.
Like it or not, however, Capozzi does seem to have prepared for
globalization and beyond. On the way out, he presses a business card
into my hand - even though I already have one . "Louis Capozzi:
Intergalactic Creative Guru," it says. Well, you can't think too big
these days, can you?
1969: Journalism graduate of NYU
1968-1970: Publicity assistant, Hill & Knowlton
1970-1972: PR associate, Bankers Trust Company
1972: MBA Finance from Bernard Baruch Graduate School of Business
1972-1976: Director of communications, AutEx
1976-1982: Ketchum, rising to managing director of the New York office
1982-1989: VP corporate communications, Aetna Life & Casualty
1989-1990: President, NW Ayer
1990-present: Manning Selvage & Lee, rising to chairman/CEO