Ailing tech shop Springbok is latest C&W office closing

RICHARDSON, TX: Cohn & Wolfe has finally closed Springbok/Cohn & Wolfe, a year and a half after purchasing the fast-dwindling hi-tech agency.

RICHARDSON, TX: Cohn & Wolfe has finally closed Springbok/Cohn & Wolfe, a year and a half after purchasing the fast-dwindling hi-tech agency.

Springbok is the latest hi-tech agency to fall victim to the downturn.

When C&W bought Springbok, the Texas agency had about 80 employees. When it closed, it had fewer than 10, said C&W CEO Donna Imperato.

However, she added that the agency's poor performance was not the only reason for closing its doors. Imperato said while the decision to close the firm was amicable with Springbok founder Glenn Abel, in hindsight, the marriage of the two agencies was not working.

"They were focused on local businesses," said Imperato. "They were a local shop, and we are trying to build on our own technology expertise.

But we do a lot of consumer tech, and they did a lot of hi-tech. They also weren't doing traditional PR for their clients. It was a mix of services.

There was PR. There was some consulting work. And the business just wasn't doing well because of market conditions.

"They had mostly Dallas-area clients who didn't need support outside Dallas," she added.

She reiterated that the closure was amicable, and that Abel didn't have an interest in staying with C&W after the closure.

Closing Springbok is one of Imperato's biggest decisions - if not the biggest - since she was handed full, day-to-day operational responsibility in May. Young & Rubicam, C&W's parent company, moved Stephen Aiello from CEO to chairman, and promoted Imperato from CEO of the New York office to COO of C&W. She was made CEO this fall.

C&W bought Springbok in May 2001 for its hi-tech muscle, as well as its presence in Texas. At the time, Aiello had said, "We see Springbok leading the technology practice."

But Imperato has now said, "We thought we would get more senior talent, but we didn't get that."

Springbok/C&W closed its Austin office in September 2001, due to the sluggish economy, and serviced all of its accounts from its Dallas-area office.

And just prior to C&W's acquisition, Springbok cut eight staff members in January 2001 in response to the tightening Texas PR market and shrinking pool of potential hi-tech clients.

Though the decision was amicable, Imperato said that even if the economy had stayed strong, and there was a chance Springbok could stay afloat, "I probably would have sold them. It's important to invest in our offices, and they really didn't fit in with what we were doing.

"I want to build a strong network. And I didn't want to invest more money in a market where the clients didn't need support outside Dallas. It didn't make strategic sense."

The closure of Springbok in Dallas follows three other high-profile closures of C&W offices last year. At the end of 2001, the agency folded its Washington, DC office into sister agency Burson-Marsteller's public affairs practice.

And in November, the agency closed its 30-year-old Atlanta office where the agency was founded. This followed the closure of the 11-year-old Chicago office in May 2001.

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