Opening up the game

Has the B to D Group reall managed to add value to the consultancies it represents? Sarah Woods takes stock two years after it was set up

When it was initially launched as an experiment, there was no guarantee that B to D Group, WPP’s umbrella set for branding and design consultancies, would add any value to Sir Martin Sorrell’s marketing empire. This is according to its chairman and chief executive Craig Branigan.

Set up in May 2005, the unit comprises Landor Associates, Enterprise IG, Addison Corporate Marketing, Lambie-Nairn and The Partners in the UK and The Helm and Walker Group in New York. It was hoped that each group would benefit by securing more new business and career opportunities, while retaining its own independence. At the time Branigan said that under the umbrella the individual consultancies would ‘share back-room facilities and share opportunities’. Industry figures, however, were sceptical as to whether an internal collaboration of historically competitive consultancies would truly benefit the client.

And was the client really at the top of WPP’s consideration? From an internal perspective, it makes a lot of sense. To have consultancies such as Landor and Enterprise IG sharing some resources and information is expedient. However, John Holton, director of Figtree and formerly a director at Interbrand, has his reservations about the group when it comes to client advantages.

‘It’s hard to see how this will work’, says Holton. ‘Enterprise and Landor compete all the time. They are always going after the big branding, corporate identity projects. Lambie-Nairn is more traditional graphics, TV and so on, but even it is moving into the branding side. I can’t imagine this working for the client.’ Last week, leadership changes emerged in a number of the B to D Group consultancies. Lambie-Nairn chief executive Nick Hough has left and will be replaced by managing director of Landor Hamburg Christian Schroeder. Meanwhile, Aziz Cami is stepping down as creative chairman of The Partners.

The goal of the B to D Group is to strengthen and grow each individual company by providing guidance, advice and management support, while allowing each chief executive to maintain ownership over the direction and operations of the consultancy.

According to Branigan, an ‘evolutionary process’ has seen results that exceeded his expectations. He says they have achieved their ‘mission’, claiming that each company is stronger and more successful than when the group began.

‘One of the benefits of the B to D Group is that we are able to provide people within the group greater career opportunities,’ says Branigan. ‘A bigger playing field if you will. Schroeder’s appointment is a perfect example. He is a seasoned leader with a successful track record and we were able to take his expertise and apply it to one of the other consultancies. The move benefits both Schroeder and Lambie-Nairn. This type of opportunity might not have happened if the group didn’t exist.’

Additionally, Branigan is optimistic about the client benefits. As part of the B to D Group, he says, the consultancies have access to new clients and untapped markets, as well as advanced knowledge-sharing systems and financial tools.

‘The chief executive officers meet as a group several times a year and maintain communication to share industry knowledge and insights that help each company move quickly up the learning curve when faced with a new client or business challenge. I absolutely see such collaboration continuing. In particular, we will be centralising the recruitment of top senior talent later this year, which will be a benefit shared by all the companies,’ adds Branigan.

Holton is more sceptical. ‘This seems to me about people who don’t understand that design is a creative market, with consultancies competing against each other. But there will be huge cost savings on certain things. It is about number crunching,’ he reckons.

Branigan says that there is no intention to merge any of the consultancies, and says that the future is focused on highlighting their different attributes to the market. ‘The B to D Group’s ultimate goal is to offer our consultancies’ clients the most complete and compelling solutions to their branding problems. With this in mind, we will continue to advance each company’s capabilities and presence in the market,’ he says.

And there are big plans for the future. Branigan aims to expand the group in terms of capabilities and geography, and he is also exploring candidates for acquisition on an ongoing basis.

• B to D Group was set up in May 2005 with a structure similar to Kantar – the internal company that oversees WPP’s market research and insight companies
• Called the B to D Group to reflect the range of branding, identity and design capabilities of its constituent groups
• UK consultancies are Addison Corporate Marketing, Enterprise IG, Lambie-Nairn, Landor Associates and The Partners
• Craig Branigan is chairman and chief executive, and also serves as chairman of Landor Associates

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