We shouldn’t be surprised by the news that Interpublic Group has bought events specialist Caribiner International. Such is the state of play with global mergers that you can expect any independent consultancy to suddenly join the list of owned groups. The main difference here is that both parties are based in the US, though each has a strong presence in the UK, one through FutureBrand, the other through its association with the Millennium Dome at Greenwich.
On the face of it, the deal is a good fit between complementary offers. IPG is very strongly involved in brands. In terms of design it is in the throes of merging its two global branding networks – FutureBrand on the identity and environments side, and The Coleman Group Worldwide in the packaging arena. By the end of the year the plan is that both of these interests will be united under the FutureBrand banner, creating a top-three global branding empire. Then there are its advertising agencies, notably McCann Erickson and Lowe Lintas & Partners, and other marketing services interests.
But with “brand experience” still being something most branding groups still only talk about, regardless of whether their roots are in design or advertising, it makes sense to bring an events group on board. Consumers have come to expect brands to “live” and the escalation of sponsorship by brand-owners creates greater opportunites, yet few big players have managed to realise the potential. It will be interesting to see how this particular deal pans out.
There is an underlying message in the IPG/ Caribiner deal for other design groups, particularly in the UK where most disciplines run their businesses in a sophisticated way. Merger mania is no longer just about identity and packaging, with the odd digital media bolt-on. Any discipline that can help express the values of a brand might be attractive to a marketing services conglomerate.
The two largely untapped areas are interiors and product design, unless they exist within a multidisciplinary team such as Lighthouse Global Network’s group Fitch. The argument is that the 3D culture is different, and the fee-earning potential of 3D independents is not very great compared with that of branding groups. Also, few have global ambitions for themselves, though their client pool may include a host of overseas companies.
But things are changing fast, driven as much by consumer expectation as by the lure of global power. So look out for the next spate of takeovers coming from less likely places. Digital media is hot for now, but IPG has shown that it isn’t the only interest on the horizon.