Colonisation game

Enterprise IG’s acquisition of a 50 per cent stake in Hamburg design group Windi Winderlich, for an undisclosed sum, reveals the scope of the ambition harboured by Enterprise, itself part of the expansive WPP Group.

Enterprise is well known for its high-profile corporate identity work, though its management concedes that it is often considered a “safe pair of hands” in the gaffe-prone corporate identity world. The group’s client list features high profile projects for companies such as Arthur Andersen, Hilton, BT, Coca-Cola and Disney, which in accountancy terms provide a tasty antidote to any inference among rival design consultancies that it is no creative hot-house.

The group, which has offices in London, the US, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South America, has plans for a major expansion into mainland Europe. To achieve this its management team believes it is imperative to maintain a permanent and sizeable presence in the target market, says sales and marketing director Patrick Smith.

The deal with Windi Winderlich also, says Smith, gives the group access to projects in additional design disciplines. According to sources in Germany, around 55 per cent of Winderlich’s output is in packaging and product brand identity, with 25 per cent corporate identity work and the balance made up by product design.

The expanded group will pitch for identity work under the Enterprise IG label, using the new Winderlich Enterprise IG name for projects in packaging and product design areas. Work will be co-ordinated through the office with the most appropriate expertise, says Smith.

Enterprise IG’s European chief executive, Dave Allen, says: “Winderlich’s strategic task will be to open up the market for corporate identity work in Germany and continental Europe. We also want to build on its great strengths in brand creation and development and to incorporate this into the Enterprise IG offer throughout Europe.”

Overall, German corporate identity design standards are considered low when compared to the UK. “German corporate identity is really poor. Most groups wouldn’t stack up against UK competition,” says one international player, who considers German standards of creative work, consultancy and presentation to be at least ten years behind the best groups in the UK.

But Winderlich does have a relatively solid reputation. Kate Ancketill of client referral agency Global Design Register says the consultancy is “certainly one of the best in Germany”, and has competed on pitch lists against rivals such as Wolff Olins, Interbrand Newell and Sorrell, and Landor Associates. Winderlich clients have included water and heating systems group Vaillant, Wella, Kellogg’s, chocolate maker Ferrero, Daimler Chrysler Aerospace, Unilever and Kraft Jacobs Suchard.

Additionally, the low base of German corporate identity design gives the Enterprise group an opportunity to advance quickly now that it has formalised its association with Winderlich. The two groups have been discussing the latest deal for 18 months, says Smith.

Enterprise categorises Winderlich as the third biggest design group in Germany, from its turnover of more than 3m, and 30-strong team. To put things in perspective, Enterprise last year achieved a turnover of 64m, and has a worldwide staff of 350.

The management of Windi Winderlich, which will continue to run the company, no doubt expects the deal with Enterprise to be mutually beneficial.

Managing partners Andreas Unger and Klaus Meinart say: “Joining Enterprise IG brings us an enormous number of opportunities all at once and brings us a powerful step closer to our goal of gaining qualitative leadership in Europe.”

There will be some changes, though. A strategic relationship between Winderlich and UK group Minale Tattersfield will end, confirms Enterprise’s Smith. But, another existing strategic alliance – with a sister WPP-owned group, London-based BDG McColl – will remain in operation.

BDG chief executive Gary Browning says: “BDG McColl has enjoyed a strategic relationship with Windi Winderlich for some time. We are delighted that it is now part of the group, which will only reinforce our relationship with it.”

Smith says the existence of the arrangement will further the development of a client referral relationship between Enterprise and BDG, which has been growing in strength over recent months.

Winderlich also works with a number of other European groups, including digital communications group Icon Medialab and Bridfors Design, both based in Stockholm. These working agreements will continue.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Enterprise’s attempt to colonise Europe, starting in Germany and with sights now set on France and Benelux, will be how local design groups respond to the cuckoo placed in their nest. If they improve as rapidly as they appear to need to, they may start to represent a real threat to UK competitors. If not, more German design groups will certainly find themselves the target of acquisition bids from overseas.

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