This story really starts where the figures leave off. Interbrand Newell and Sorrell’s fourth placing in the Top 100 charts says more about the history of two consultancies than it does about the future of one, except for the upward trend both showed last year. The work that yielded such a healthy upturn in fortune was won, if not implemented, before Interbrand UK struck a deal to buy Newell and Sorrell last October.
Indeed, INS only started operating under that banner in January, with John Sorrell as its chairman. But, even with that important detail in place, the full merger isn’t completed. Plans to move former Interbrand staff from Covent Garden to the former Newell and Sorrell’s premises at Utopia Village in north London – enlarged by architect Fletcher Priest – have been stalled by planning hiccups. INS management is still pursuing that idea, but is looking for alternative offices as well. The former Newell and Sorrell Amsterdam office remains intact, but efforts are being made to integrate staff there into the new culture.
There have been staff parties, lunch visits and exchanges to bring the three teams together informally. There are joint merger teams, management teams and workshops. And now there are joint projects – as yet under wraps – that are really helping to gel the new organisation.
According to Sorrell, the merger process has thrown up few real surprises. “We’ve all spent time working for clients who’ve had mergers, so it’s been quite predictable,” he says. “We’ve been running the business as usual, while bringing everyone together in terms of culture, a shared sense of purpose and direction.
“We’re trying to trade as normal, to trade as one business clearly focused on what clients’ needs are. In any merger the central issue is to keep doing that while putting things together. Everyone has to work a bit harder to do both things at once.” ©
An important factor, according to Frances Newell, former co-chairman of Newell and Sorrell and now artistic director of INS, is that the consultancies were already divided into “quite mature, small teams”. Having different locations is a drag, she says, but the structure was there already and people were used to a large degree of autonomy.
The existing management structures in the three locations is still very much in place to ease day-to-day operations. “It’s important not to disturb the roots too much”, says Newell, a keen gardener.
A key to what Sorrell sees as the success of the merger so far is the appointment of Rita Clifton as chief executive, last October, to “maximise the complementary skills of the two consultancies”. Clifton came from Saatchi and Saatchi, where she was vice-chairman and executive planning director, with a brief to develop INS business and managing its relationship with parent company Interbrand’s 15 offices worldwide.
Clifton quotes a piece in The Economist which states that half of mergers fail because of a mismatch in companies which makes it hard for managements to make the deal work after the financial deal has been struck. She maintains INS is in a healthier position because both consultancies were “at their operational best” when they came together, making them strong partners. The critical thing, she adds, is not to think about fitting one business into another, but to start from their combined strengths.
Though from the outside the two businesses appear complementary, with little overlap, she has worked to bring out the shared values on which to build the new consultancy. She talks enthusiastically about “the shared passionate views we all hold dear”.
A concern for intellectual outlets, shown in both consultancies’ strong track records in publishing books and other documents on subjects such as branding, trademarks and design effectiveness;
Courage, shown in the championing of brand-evaluation, which was finally accepted by accountants as a valuable asset last year, and the “big idea” behind the British Airways identity by Newell and Sorrell;
A belief in inspiration, to staff and clients;
Imagination, not just in the creative work, but in business thinking; and
Bottom-line effectiveness, with both consultancies having evolved systems of measurement.
Sorrell has high hopes for the new business, because of the great spread of expertise it can offer. “For many companies in the design sector there is only one entry point,” he says. © “The holistic business we’ve created has a lot of different entry points”. Newell adds that previous Newell and Sorrell clients are “knocking on the door again, because they can see the effectiveness [of the deal]. We now appeal all around the boardroom table.”
With a recruitment drive currently on across all areas of the business, Sorrell is thrilled by “the kind of people saying they’d like to work with us”. People like Clifton. Clients, too, have been equally keen to be part of it. “Clients understand [the potential] better than we do,” says Newell.
“We’ve always been about finding the best possible people in the world to work in teams to do great work for clients,” says Sorrell, adding that clients are now “very interested in the greater resource”. Existing clients were put in the picture from day one; potential clients are now approached as one consultancy, he says.
With characteristic zeal, Sorrell sees the merger as, “An exciting opportunity to change… It’s about people and different ways of doing work; an interesting combining of minds.”
He maintains that size is an issue and, with some 200 staff worldwide, INS has achieved a critical mass in terms of strength and influence. “We must now make the best of it,” he says, adding that he’s keen that work should be “more interactive, stimulating and enjoyable”.
“One great driver is the new things we can develop,” says Sorrell. No clues yet though as to what they might be.
Newell and Sorrell
Founded 197Staff at merger: 100
Offices: London and Amsterdam
Turnover forecast at merger for 1997: 8m
The Interbrand Group
Founded 197Parent company: Omnicom since 199Staff at merger: 500 worldwide (90 inLondon)
Offices: London, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Milan, Hamburg, Cologne, Zurich, Tokyo, Osaka, Seoul, Singapore, Sydney, BogotÃ¡, Jakarta and Johannesburg
Turnover: 34m, including 9m forecast at merger for Interbrand UK for 1997