Wolff Olins in secret ‘talks’

Wolff Olins, one of the last bastions of independent ownership in the branding sector, is in talks with “potential partners” the company has confirmed.

Despite being in the acquisition spotlight for some time, its directors have always said Wolff Olins is not for sale. Now, exactly how future partnerships will affect its independence is open to question, following news of discussions in the US.

Industry sources say that the consultancy has appointed an advisor, believed to be KPMG, which has approached a potential partner in the US.

The prospective bedfellow is believed to be Leo Burnett or its parent group Bcom3, which Wolff Olins chief executive Charles Wright denies.

However, Wright concedes that it has been in discussions “on an exploratory basis with a number of potential partners, who may be able to help us make a step change in our business”.

Wright says preserving a strategy of keeping Wolff Olins “special” will be critical, though he is careful not to elaborate on the structure that a deal might take.

“Given our strategy, we are careful about what type of help will be appropriate for us to meet our ambition. I cannot emphasise enough how being big and bland is not our agenda,” he says.

Although Lloyds TSB Development owns 33 per cent of Wolff Olins as a result of a management buyout in 1997, the group is considered by many to be one of the last of the great independents.

A prospect such as Bcom3 would, in theory, provide weight and further international investment opportunity, without proximity to any rival branding business.

A Bcom3 spokesman refused to comment whether the network is looking to acquire design or branding groups in the US or UK.

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