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Interpublic puts a positive spin on Dooner demotion

NEW YORK - Interpublic has tried to put a positive spin on John Dooner's demotion to the role of chairman and CEO of McCann Erickson WorldGroup, positioning the move as a 'bold' move that will help rescue the network and demonstrates 'real leadership'.

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The Interpublic Group of Companies announced yesterday that Dooner was stepping down from the role of chairman and CEO to be replaced by David Bell. Bell was formerly the head of True North Communications, the advertising group acquired by Interpublic in 2001.

The changes came after a board meeting at the company yesterday in New York, which claimed the scalp of James Heekin, head of McCann-Erickson, who was ousted from the company altogether.

In a surprising turn of events, chief financial officer Sean Orr has kept his role at Interpublic, although sources have suggested this might not be for much longer.

Interpublic's litany of woe is now well known. As well as facing the advertising recession dogging all of the major holding companies, under Dooner's CEO tenure the company has admitted $181.3m (£115m) in restated charges, seen the value of expensive acquisitions dive and been forced to renegotiate credit facilities, with its credit rating almost at junk status.

Nonetheless, the company tried to put a positive spin on Dooner's move back to the agency he headed before being promoted to the chief operating officer role at Interpublic in March 2000.

Frank Borelli, presiding director of the Interpublic board, said: "John's decision is a bold one -- for Interpublic to succeed, McCann must lead the way. We are very pleased that he is returning to the things he loves most: serving clients, creating great advertising and leading McCann, which John built into a global integrated marketing powerhouse during his 16-year tenure there."

He added: "He is demonstrating real leadership by stepping into an operating role, where he can have the greatest positive impact on Interpublic's financial results and on increasing shareholder value."

McCann is the world's largest advertising network. The agency recently lost one of its flagship US accounts for Coke Classic, one of the pieces of business that Dooner oversaw personally, to WPP Group's Berlin Cameron/Red Cell.

Bell, who took up his new role yesterday, is reported to be popular on Wall Street and the market certainly responded well to the news that he was taking the reins at Interpublic. Shares in the company rose by nearly 5% to close at $9.60 on the New York Stock Exchange yesterday -- an increase of 46 cents.

Borelli said of Bell: "He is widely respected in the advertising industry world, where he was a successful agency leader, the only person to have chaired all of the industry's leading professional associations and the head of a major holding company. In this last role, David demonstrated that he has the skill set, visibility and credibility to effectively reach out to the financial community."

Bell was chairman and CEO of True North when it was acquired by Interpublic, where he took the role of vice-chairman overseeing The Partnership division.

Before taking on the True North role, Bell lead Bozell Worldwide as president and CEO. He joined Bozell in 1975, when it acquired Knox Reeves Advertising, where he had been president since 1972. He began his career at Leo Burnett in its executive development programme.

Bell said: "I am looking forward to working with the heads of all our companies in leading Interpublic forward. Our focus must continue to be on improved operating performance. I am confident I can make significant contributions in driving organic growth and creating value for our shareholders."

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