By John Tylee, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 28 January 2011 12:00AM
The most charitable interpretation of Omnicom's decision to ditch its Tequila and Agency.com brands in London and merge them into a single unit with a new name is that it recognises the global convergence of the direct marketing and digital disciplines.
The most cynical one is that this is a coming together of two TBWA\ network brands that must hang together to avoid hanging separately.
The key question is whether Tequila and Agency.com, whose married name is Being, can evolve into something that's greater than the sum of its parts. And some will need a lot of convincing.
"I can't understand the logic of it," a former TBWA senior manager comments. "While other groups are beginning to put some interesting integrated offerings together, this smacks of desperation."
For another ex-TBWA staffer, bringing Being into being just looks like a marriage of convenience. "It seems as though this is being done more to sort out a particular problem, rather than create a new force in the London market," he says.
Certainly, neither of the marriage partners can be said to have set the world afire of late.
Once a formidable player, Agency.com has steadily lost its allure to such an extent that it's now seen as "old digital". British Airways remains the only account of substance in its portfolio. Tequila hasn't been quite so problematic, although onlookers were suggesting that it had serious work to do if it wasn't to get squeezed by emerging smaller rivals and re-energised larger ones.
Nevertheless, there's a widespread view that incorporating the bulk of the Tequila and Agency.com operations under one roof was just about the only option left.
"Tequila has a good reputation but has had a tough time, while Agency.com isn't what it used to be," the head of a UK marketing communications group remarks. "If I'd been looking at these two assets, I'd probably have done the same thing."
Curiously, although Being opened for business in London on 4 January, its managers are reluctant to go into detail about the agency's proposition in advance of the imminent appointment of a creative director.
Andy Peppiatt, the former BA group account director at Agency.com, becomes the managing director of the merged entity, working with Indy Saha, TBWA\London's former head of strategy, who is the chief strategy officer.
Peppiatt won't venture much beyond saying Being is a brand behaviour company whose formation has largely been driven by the demands of three clients - BA, Electrolux and Canon, all international companies whose businesses involve a lot of digital activity.
Lisa Thomas, the M&C Saatchi Group chief executive, says efficiency reasons alone make the coming together of DM and digital a no-brainer. "It's very difficult to get paid properly for a campaign if you're having to run DM and digital teams side by side," she argues.
Meanwhile, Richard Pinder, the Publicis Worldwide chief operating officer, believes that the trend among networks for bringing DM and digital operations together reflects the fact that almost all consumer transactions of any significance now involve some digital component. "If you're buying a car, you'll almost certainly search online before you go to a dealer," he points out. "Meanwhile, the success rate of traditional DM is questionable with 99 per cent of it probably going in the bin."
Mike Dodds, Proximity London's chief executive, says: "Digital agencies won't exist in the future and will be subsumed into DM, PR or creative agencies. Digital has never been a discipline. It's just a way in which agencies build relationships for their clients."
It's a point taken by the Engine Group, which has been beefing up the digital capabilities of its Partners Andrews Aldridge DM subsidiary and recently merging its WCRS flagship agency with its sister digital operation, Altogether.
And Debbie Klein, Engine's joint chief executive, thinks that the day may not be far off when Jam, the group's standalone social media unit, becomes part of something bigger.
"The dividing line between where one discipline ends and another begins has been growing increasingly blurred for some time and data is the glue that's joining them," Klein declares.
Whether or not this is how TBWA sees it - or whether its move is driven by more pragmatic considerations - is an open question.
Omnicom says that the Being operation, already established in New York and Paris, is part of a realignment taking place in a number of markets.
Seven months ago, Agency.com San Francisco was relaunched as Signal to Noise, a digitally led integrated agency. In December, Omnicom put Agency.com Chicago together with The Designory to create a similar offering.
Network sources insist Being won't be rolled out globally but will be established in markets if local circumstances are right and where there is room for growth.
Some onlookers see what's happening in the UK as a way of putting distance between Robert Harwood-Matthews, the TBWA UK group president, and Tim Bonnet, previously the Tequila\London chief executive, now the managing director of Being's global brands.
"Tim is a difficult character to work with," a former TBWA group executive says. "Tequila has been his fiefdom and he doesn't like things to change."
Others wonder whether the new operation, although having been digitally enhanced and with a good data capability, will prove a truly compelling offering, especially when set against the newly merged Dare and MCBD.
As Dodds concludes: "It's a very crowded marketplace and Being will have quite a challenge from a standing start."
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk