Perhaps the most interesting thing about Enterprise IG’s latest venture is that it appears to be centred around the “acquisition” of an individual, Brian Shepherd, rather than a merger deal. This approach allows the WPP Group-owned global identity network to effect what amounts to a major cultural shift without having to mesh two disparate teams – a harder task than it might at first appear, as the likes of Interbrand Newell and Sorrell have found through mergers between managements that share a vision but have little common spirit between their teams. Enterprise IG can appear to grow organically.
If things don’t work out for Shepherd within Enterprise IG, the issue can be addressed within WPP, without losing his undoubted talent and experience. But if the venture does succeed, Enterprise IG can claim to be a genuine full-service agency.
Shepherd is already playing a key transatlantic role within Enterprise IG, and, indeed, WPP. His position is a strange hybrid, and is likely to become more so over the next few months as his “offer” becomes more clearly defined. If he can pick up the opportunities currently “left on the table” by Enterprise IG when its involvement with an identity client has run its course, other WPP agencies, particularly in advertising and PR, might also benefit.
The interest for the UK design scene is in the acquisitions and affiliations Shepherd might make. Merger activity among the big global players has so far focused on the identity and packaging side of branding, and other brand manifestations have largely been overlooked. He talks of providing a “world class” service that includes design as well as strategy. Given his personal history with UK events star Imagination, we can expect him to at least be in discussion with its leader, Gary Withers – especially as Withers was one of the first to highlight the potential of “brand experience” a decade ago.
But other names are surely in the frame. Retail design specialist 20/20, for example, could be an asset if Enterprise IG is looking to work with more consumer brands to challenge the strength in that area of rival group FutureBrand. Outside design, Shepherd has expressed an admiration for groups like Circus, which procure the right mix of marketing services agencies to meet clients’ communications needs.
The field is open for Shepherd. But the deciding factor will not just be the availability of the right creative “partners”, but the willingness of clients to give the entire management of their brand over to one consultancy – which is why WPP is wise to keep its options open as to whether he remains within Enterprise IG.