To merge or not to merge? It is probably not even a question for Sir Martin Sorrell as he positions his latest global design acquisition within the WPP Group stable. Why compromise the brand equity that has built up in Young & Rubicam’s design arm Landor Associates for the sake of size?
WPP is already, through last week’s £2.89bn deal with Y&R, the world’s biggest marketing services conglomerate. To put Landor together with WPP’s existing corporate identity network Enterprise IG for the sake of wielding greater physical might than rivals such as Omnicom-owned Interbrand and The Interpublic Group’s FutureBrand is unnecessary.
The two groups might be complementary, but that doesn’t suggest a close fit. Besides, Enterprise IG chief executive officer Dave Allen and his international colleagues have their own expansion plans for their team and it is unlikely that Landor was part of that strategy, despite its strong presence in the Far East.
If, indeed, Landor was a key factor in a deal which also takes in advertising giant Y&R and key PR player Burson-Marsteller – both complementary to other agencies within WPP – it is more likely its reputation through its late founder Walter Landor for creativity that attracted the WPP boss. It has, after all, been strongly suggested that the desire to have a creative star in the WPP firmament fired Sorrell’s interest in The Brand Union, which it acquired last autumn and with it screen graphics king Martin Lambie-Nairn. It might be that Sorrell saw the need to boost WPP’s on-screen offer, but why else would he have bought another branding group, however profitable, as he already owned Coley Porter Bell?
Lambie-Nairn is an acknowledged creative leader in his field and the WPP deal has in no way diminished his standing – quite the reverse, in fact. Landor’s creative reputation has, on the other hand, lost its gloss over recent years, but creativity is at the heart of its culture and can be nurtured again.
What Sorrell does need to do is to take stock now of his empire and decide his next move – that is exactly what Fitch owner Lighthouse is doing after a spate of acquisitions and the only course of action that makes sense.
One thing he might consider, though, is what to do about that other design interest that came with the Y&R deal, 53-strong graphics group Marsteller, created following Burson-Marsteller’s acquisition of the former design group Giant in 1997. Does that still sit easily within the PR firm or could that more usefully be deployed or absorbed elsewhere within WPP? Probably it could.