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In the past year mergers and acquisitions have been rife among the big multinational groups, says Mike Exon. Research by Natalie Spencer

The world map of design conglomerates is in a constant state of flux, but last year’s spate of merger and acquisition activity saw some notable shifts in the landscape.

The WPP Group rose to international stardom by becoming the biggest marketing communications network in the world in terms of consolidated turnover. The other big networks were, meanwhile, as busy as ever adding design, branding and digital media groups to their traditionally advertising-heavy mix of service agencies. Big fish newcomers such as Lighthouse Global Network were swallowed up by even bigger fish, proving that not even the giants can avoid being caught.

And while most of the biggest predators got off fairly unscathed, rumours about consolidation at the top of the scale were rife, though these have not yet been seen to bear fruit.

The WPP Group

The UK-owned WPP Group not only became the world’s largest marketing communications group, but also the biggest owner of design groups last year, when it sealed the acquisition of US advertising group Young & Rubicam. As a result of an 11th-hour deal, WPP acquired Y&R and its design subsidiaries, including global branding group Landor Associates, Marsteller and leading London design group The Partners, which had itself just signed a merger deal with Y&R.

WPP adds these new arrivals to a long list, including Landor rival Enterprise IG, Coley Porter Bell, BDG McColl, Addison, The Brand Union (Tutssels and Lambie-Nairn), Oakley Young, Clever Media, Banner McBride, Warwicks and Scott Stern Associates.

Its digital media arm includes Concept, Clever Media, Digital@JWT and Syzygy – in which it has a minority stake. Syzygy merged with German digital media group United Media and French group NetForce, and floated in Germany. WPP’s design groups come under its branding and identity, healthcare and specialist communications division.

Cordiant Communications Group

The latest behemoth to hit design’s centre-stage is the UK’s Cordiant Communications, owner of events specialist HP:ICM and best known as the parent of advertising group Bates Worldwide. It was formed by the demerger of Saatchi & Saatchi and the then Cordiant in 1997. After acquiring PSD Associates last June, Cordiant Communications pulled off one of the design coups of the year by buying the rapidly emerging US-based Lighthouse Global Network.

The year before, LGN had not only bought Fitch, its jewel in the crown, but a raft of complementary UK and US design and marketing groups including Ideascope, Primo Angeli, The Leonhardt Group and C&FD on the design side. CCG then completed its run of form by acquiring Bamber Forsyth in November. It also owns a 30 per cent stake in The Facilities Group.

The Interpublic Group of Companies

The fast expanding FutureBrand group, which has subsumed Coleman Planet, comes under the auspices of Interpublic’s McCann-Erickson WorldGroup. FutureBrand acquired a 50 per cent stake in London screen design group English & Pockett in November last year. Interpublic has also invested in global e-business group Icon Medialab, which merged with and renamed MetaDesign London as Icon Brandlab last December.

Inside US-based Interpublic’s Allied communications Group is events specialist Jack Morton Worldwide, which acquired Caribiner International, integrated it with London design group Creation Design and relaunched it as Jack Morton UK at the end of last year.


US-based Omnicom’s Diversified Agency Services division includes the US Interbrand network, which acquired the then Newell and Sorrell. Omnicom’s IDH Group includes Pauffley, as well as its sister digital production studio Generator. It also owns London brand and business strategy group New Solutions. Omnicom BBDO, which acquired Abbott Mead Vickers, also owns Fishburn Hedges, The Open Agency and Traffic Interactive.

Omnicom’s digital media arm Communicade holds minority interests in, Razorfish, Oyster Partners, Organic, Tribal DDB, Red Sky Interactive and AnswerThink Consulting Group.

Bartle Bogle Hegarty

The Bartle Bogle Hegarty ad group took a 21 per cent stake in The Identica Partnership in 1998, and merged its own consultancy Tango Design into the group.

Vivendi Universal

French media giant Vivendi has had its merger with Seagram and French TV broadcaster Canal+ approved by shareholders, and is awaiting regulator approval. Vivendi’s Havas group owns the newly-merged EHSrealtime.

Havas Advertising, meanwhile, has a Diversified Agencies Group which includes Euro RSCG Design, AMX, Conran Design Group, Interface and CGI. Havas Advertising’s France-based design interests include Design’s Pluriel, Label Etoile and View. And in Germany it owns Rempen & Partner.

Havas Advertising has also acquired control of The Lopex Group and, as a result, now includes international design group DIA in its design portfolio.

Incepta Group

Incepta owns the Citigate Communications Group, which has interests in design and branding, advertising, public relations and digital media. Its subsidiary companies have now all adjusted their names to include the Citigate prefix. These include Citigate Lloyd Northover, which has offices in London, Hong Kong and Singapore, Citigate Corporate Branding in the US, Citigate Smarts in Glasgow and Edinburgh and Citigate PLPR in Belfast.

Its digital media groups, which come under the umbrella of, include JKD Communications and Citigate Marchcom in London. It has other design interests in the US, South Africa, Germany and Singapore.

Tempus Group

This UK-based group is the parent of media buying outfit CIA. Its design group, Brown ID (formerly Brown Inc) was merged with international multidisciplinary design group KSDP at the end of last year – with offices in London, Amsterdam, Sydney, Cape Town and Johannesburg. The merged business, BrownKSDP, continues to work closely alongside sister marketing agency Added Value and digital media group Outrider, though The Added Value Group ceased to exist after its acquisition by Tempus in 1999.


The French Publicis group secured its acquisition of Saatchi & Saatchi last year, which itself demerged from, the then, Cordiant in 1997. Saatchi & Saatchi owns a 70 per cent share in The Facilities Group, with CCG owning the remainder. The Facilities Group includes Saatchi & Saatchi Design, Red Kite New Media and Sector Light Design.


Since 1996, office furniture design and manufacturing group Steelcase has held an “undisclosed equity stake” in product design group Ideo. In 1998, Ideo acquired a 25 per cent stake in The Fourth Room, which was then acquired by US e-business group US Interactive, last year.

Chime Communications

Chime subsidiary Bell Pottinger owns Smithfield Design and has a stake in digital media group Interactive Bureau.

Top Five Marketing Communications Networks

1 WPP Group (including Y&R) $6.7bn (£4.4bn)

2 Omnicom $5.7bn (£3.8bn)

3 Interpublic Group of Companies $5.1bn (£3.4bn)

4 Havas Advertising $2.4bn (£1.6bn)

5 Publicis/ Saatchi & Saatchi $2.2bn (£1.4bn)

Figures are worldwide gross income for year ending 1999. Source: Advertising Age

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