Does WPP acquisition mean future mergers?

The long-awaited deal between WPP Group and The Brand Union throws up pointers to the way the UK design industry is shaping up.

The long-awaited deal between WPP Group and The Brand Union (see {storyLink (“DW199910150006″,”WPP signs up Brand Union”)}) throws up pointers to the way the UK design industry is shaping up. If such high profile players as the Lambie-Nairn element of The Brand Union can become part of a global conglomerate of marketing services interests then where will the acquisitions stop?

Martin Lambie-Nairn has become a “brand” in himself in recent years, winning, very deservedly, just about every award available to him. In the old order of things, he might have moved to Pentagram, where the focus is great design. For him to become involved instead with Martin Sorrell’s business-driven empire is an interesting departure.

For WPP meanwhile it makes good sense to bring one of the best designers of screen graphics into its fold and it’s good for creativity to blend with commerce on a world stage. It’s less obvious where the Tutssels element of The Brand Union fits, given that it is a direct rival to WPP-owned brand specialist Coley Porter Bell.

Reports of a merger between Tutssels and CPB have been denied. But when WPP last faced such a scenario – having bought Addison, which rivalled the then Sampson Tyrrell Corporate Marketing – that is exactly what transpired. The smaller STCM disappeared as Addison took on its literature business. All we can do is wait and see.

But the Brand Union deal has wider implications for UK design. With so many, largely US predators looking to buy design groups, the question is which consultancy will be next. On the identity front Wolff Olins remains the only big independent player, against WPP-owned Enterprise IG, Young and Rubicam’s Landor and Interbrand Newell and Sorrell. It too might benefit from a wider global reach.

Then there’s The Partners. Like Pentagram, it’s a designers’ design group, but profitable nonetheless. It, you might say, is ripe for takeover. Design House and Design Bridge have both been subject to takeover rumours and in many ways it makes sense, with principals, particularly at Design House, taking more of a back seat and much to be gained from “alliances” or mergers with other concerns.

This is speculation, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find any of these groups in new ownership before long. And they aren’t the only ones. The good news for design is that they are known for quality work and the more the big players can foster great design, the more influence it will have. It’s important that creativity isn’t stifled by an overemphasis on business performance, but I can’t see either Lambie-Nairn or Glenn Tutssel settling for that.

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