EDITORIAL: Stealing clients is dangerous game

The Atlanta PR agency community is in a state of disarray as Tony DeMartino, CEO of the local Cohn & Wolfe office, has taken ten of his staff and headed off to start a new agency (see PRWeek, January 8 and article on opposite page). Cohn & Wolfe CEO Stephen Aiello has fired off lawsuits accusing DeMartino of soliciting Cohn & Wolfe clients and staff. DeMartino has reacted in a novel fashion by invoking Georgia law, which, he claims, allows him to dodge any non-compete or non-solicitation agreements.

The Atlanta PR agency community is in a state of disarray as Tony DeMartino, CEO of the local Cohn & Wolfe office, has taken ten of his staff and headed off to start a new agency (see PRWeek, January 8 and article on opposite page). Cohn & Wolfe CEO Stephen Aiello has fired off lawsuits accusing DeMartino of soliciting Cohn & Wolfe clients and staff. DeMartino has reacted in a novel fashion by invoking Georgia law, which, he claims, allows him to dodge any non-compete or non-solicitation agreements.

The Atlanta PR agency community is in a state of disarray as Tony DeMartino, CEO of the local Cohn & Wolfe office, has taken ten of his staff and headed off to start a new agency (see PRWeek, January 8 and article on opposite page). Cohn & Wolfe CEO Stephen Aiello has fired off lawsuits accusing DeMartino of soliciting Cohn & Wolfe clients and staff. DeMartino has reacted in a novel fashion by invoking Georgia law, which, he claims, allows him to dodge any non-compete or non-solicitation agreements.

The spat has aroused strong emotions down south, where a gentleman's agreement still means something. It also emerges that in November, DeMartino told Chick-Fil-A, a Cohn & Wolfe client for 17 years, that the account wasn't deserving of a dedicated team. Unsurprisingly, Chick-Fil-A walked - straight back to old contact Bob Cohn, who now runs agency 360. Other clients - including Coca-Cola and BellSouth - must be similarly concerned by the upheaval.

Contrary to some of the more hysterical comments that have been flying around, we're sure DeMartino will work in that town again. Breakaways in PR firms are always going to happen when people are the only asset.

But for how long is it decent to sit behind your desk at an agency, drawing a salary while plotting your glorious exit? And in an industry where honor and integrity are paramount for clients, how does it look when so many senior staff walk off with the office keys?





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