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Doner was until recently one of the world's biggest independent advertising agencies, although it lost its position as the US #1 in 2007 to rival Richards Group. In 2012 it sold a significant minority stake to MDC Partners, and is now majority owned by that group. Doner operates mainly in the US, but also has a small presence in the UK. It grew rapidly during the late 1990s, due in no small part to the capture of the Mazda account in 1997, and it was responsible for developing the car company's popular and long-running "Zoom Zoom" campaign. However, the agency has struggled since 2006 with a series of client losses. It attempted to stem that losing streak with an updated image and a refreshed management team, following the retirement of longtime CEO Alan Kalter. However, those changes were not enough to prevent the departure of Mazda as well a few months later. As a result, Doner mounted an aggressive new business drive, which began to deliver results towards the end of the year, not least a position on what is now the Fiat Chrysler roster.


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This hard-working agency earned plaudits for championing independent status in the fast-changing corporate environment during the 1990s and early 2000s. Its creative work is efficient and effective if not often exceptional, but the group was in the past heavily reliant on core account Mazda, which accounted for as much as 20% of revenues in 2009. The loss of that business in 2010 was a serious blow. It followed the steady departure of a string of other important accounts since 2006, including Progressive, Circuit City, Hotels.com, FreeCreditReport and Blockbuster. However, that seismic shock seemed finally to stir the agency into action in 2010, and it successfully regained a presence in the automotive sector, winning a lead position on the roster of what is now Fiat Chrysler. Even so, the loss of such a major account also encouraged a complete change of corporate strategy, and in 2012, Doner's manager-shareholders finally agreed to surrender their full independence, selling a 30% stake to Canadian group MDC Partners. MDC increased that holding to 70% in 2014 and has an option to acquire the remaining shares in 2017.

Until that point, Doner had been one of the largest remaining independently owned advertising agencies in the US. (It was also perhaps one of the last to launch its own website, which finally appeared for the first time at the end of 2006). The company has three main locations in the US, with its HQ in Detroit, and secondary outposts in Los Angeles and Cleveland. An office was established in Atlanta (previously an outpost of MDC stablemate KBS+) to service Coca-Cola business, but closed again in 2015. Satellite businesses include a small media division, as well as Doner Direct for CRM business. There was also an office in Canada for several years (originally as Doner Schur Peppler). However that unit was shuttered in 2011. Ad Age estimated US revenues of $105m for 2015.

The group maintains an international office in the UK. In 1995, the agency acquired a sizeable stake in the London office of GGK, renamed Doner Cardwell Hawkins, which became the hub for Doner's international BP business until 1998. Following the loss of BP, DCH has added new local clients, while also representing several of the US agency's international accounts. In 2012, the UK agency dropped its original name, becoming Doner UK. Campaign/Nielsen estimated billings of £7m in 2015, putting Doner UK just inside the top 100 agencies.


The agency was founded by 22-year-old Wilfred Broderick ("Brod") Doner in 1937. Doner was a college graduate who had spent some time working in a small Detroit ad agency, and decided to set up his own business with older partner Lionel Fink. Their shop, Fink & Doner, opened its doors in 1937, with Grosse Pointe Quality Food Stores as its only client. Progress was slow, but the agency began to pick up speed after Fink's retirement in 1942. It also changed its name to WB Doner & Co. During the 1940s, Brod Doner picked up new partner Marvin Frank and opened a Chicago office. The agency also won its first big account, Atlantic Brewery's Tavern Pale Beer, followed by Turtle Wax car polish. In 1953, Doner acquired New York-based Peck advertising, whose clients included Timex watches, for whom it created the "Takes a licking and keeps on ticking" campaign. A Baltimore office opened in 1955 under Herbert Fried (later to succeed Doner as chairman).

In the 1960s, however, the New York office, renamed Doner & Peck, lost its key Timex account and was sold. In addition, Doner and Frank dissolved their partnership, leaving Doner with just two offices again, Baltimore and Detroit. Also during the decade the company became the subject of a Federal Trade Commission probe after it was discovered that an employee had set up a bogus research organisation to provide made-up endorsements for one of the agency's clients. The 1970s proved a better decade. The agency picked up two pieces of international business, Chiquita bananas and British Petroleum's Sohio subsidiary. This led to work for BP itself, and the agency ultimately handled a sizeable chunk of BP's business around the world. It established an office in London in 1988 - Doner International - to manage that account. In the 1980s, the agency secured assignments for Ford and Coca-Cola's Minute Maid, and established satellite businesses outside the US, acquiring Canadian agency Schur Peppler. Towards the end of the decade, Brod Doner retired, selling his majority stake in the business who Herb Fried, who had become CEO in 1973.

The biggest change in Doner's direction came in the 1990s. By early that decade, the agency was best-known in the US for its work for the Ford Dealer retail network. But the work was generally uninspiring, although reliable. "Solid but unremarkable", was the general industry view of the agency. In 1995 the group expanded its UK outpost, taking a minority shareholding in what had previously been the London office of GGK, a Swiss-based advertising network which had gone bust in 1994, but whose London office had been bought out by managers Paul Cardwell and Andrew Hawkins. That business rebranded as Doner Cardwell Hawkins.

In 1996, Doner's second office in Southfield, Michigan burned down, and staff were forced to work out of temporary premises for six months. CEO Alan Kalter later claimed that the experience inspired a new determination to reinvent the business. In 1997, Kalter and creative chief John DeCerchio mounted an audacious bid for the national US branding business for Mazda Cars. That account had been surrendered by previous agency FCB as a result of client conflict with its newly acquired stablemate Bozell, which handled Chrysler. Despite strong competition from Ogilvy & Mather and GSD&M, Doner won the pitch, worth around $250m in billings. The debut campaign, "Zoom Zoom", conceived by DeCerchio, won plaudits throughout the industry.

Buoyed by its new creativity, Doner went on to pick up a series of other big new accounts before the end of the year, including Blockbuster Video and May Department Stores (both later moved on). As a result, the agency switched its HQ from Baltimore to Southfield, and opened several other offices in the US. At around the same time, it rebranded itself simply as Doner. However it also lost the BP account after the oil company's merger with Amoco, and resigned the Ford Dealers account in order to Focus on Mazda.

The group enjoyed a strong run for several years between 2000 and 2006. For the next few years, though, it was faced with the steady leak of important clients. In early 2009 the agency laid off 12% of its staff to cut costs. Even more troublesome was a row with John DeCerchio, which erupted in Spring 2009. DeCerchio retired from the business in 2008, and agreed to sell back his 32% shareholding in the agency on a deferred compensation scheme. A year later, however, he complained that the payments he had received were less than had been agreed and sued the company for the equivalent of $55m. Shortly afterwards, former CMO Bryan Yolles, now at Universal McCann, also issued a lawsuit demanding detailed information on his pension, after ten unsuccessful attempts to request it in person. After internal investigation it also transpired that Doner's pension fund was not in full compliance with all relevant laws and regulations.

Long-serving chairman & CEO Alan Kalter left the agency at the end of 2009 after a difficult couple of years. A virtual fixture at Doner, he had worked at the agency since 1967. He sold his shares in the business to its next three most senior managers. Only David DeMuth, now CEO & president, remains at the agency.

Last full revision 19th September 2016

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