CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/ARNOLD WORLDWIDE PARTNERS - Arnold seeks partnership of 'mind, body and soul'. Ed Eskandarian thinks that with Havas behind it, AWP will thrive

'I'd rather be in Paris,' reads the stuffed cushion perched on a chair in the office of Ed Eskandarian, the chairman of the recently formed Arnold Worldwide Partners. But don't believe it for a second.

'I'd rather be in Paris,' reads the stuffed cushion perched on a chair in the office of Ed Eskandarian, the chairman of the recently formed Arnold Worldwide Partners. But don't believe it for a second.

The humorous nod to Havas may belie the relaxed relationship that appears to be developing between Arnold and its French parent, but it is clear that Eskandarian is relishing the challenge of taking Arnold Worldwide Partners forward from his office in downtown Boston. Even though he knows it won't be plain sailing.

The 63-year-old Eskandarian is known for his ability to turn a deal.

He has built Arnold from a dollars 40 million billing local shop in 1990 to a dollars 1.3 billion shop with 15 offices and a ranking of 18th in the US market.

Clients include Volkswagen, McDonald's, Monster.com and Alcatel.

Still, with Arnold having far outgrown its domestic playpen, the Havas deal offered the creatively respected agency a significant foothold into the rest of the world. Similarly, Havas's underperforming Campus agencies were, no doubt, pleased with the coup of having the Arnold name to support their revamped network.

The advent of AWP seems to be recognition that Campus has not worked.

'Campus was only European, so it was restricted,' says Eskandarian, who plans to boost AWP's offering by adding agencies in Australia, China and Korea.

He believes the lack of staff dedicated to building the Campus framework was also a mistake. 'They'd never set up a true network structure, which was probably their drawback,' he says.

He is clear on the positioning the new network offers existing and potential clients. 'We will be the only international group that is poised to operate in 15 to 20 countries with partners of like mind, body and soul,' he insists.

He repeats this last phrase on numerous occasions over the course of the interview to emphasise the importance of chemistry in an agency.

But first things first. It was clear to observers that the Campus offering was in need of improvement, with the performance of its UK agencies giving considerable cause for concern.

In this year alone, Partners BDDH has lost the prestigious Guardian account and its hold on the Mercedes business is coming under the spotlight. WCRS has lost Bass, Sega, Land Rover and, most notably, the Orange account. The agency's lack of international reach was cited by Hans Snook, the chief executive of Orange, as the reason for the removal of the Orange business into Lowe Lintas.

Under the terms of the new deal, WCRS, as head of the Campus network, has rescinded its lead status to the US. 'If you look at any global agency, they are all US-based,' Eskandarian says. 'That should not impact upon WCRS in its own market.' But it seems that Robin Wight, the chairman of the agency he founded two decades ago, might see it differently.

The Chinese whispers surrounding Wight's future direction abound. Eskandarian, however, seems unfazed by the likely scenario of Wight walking. He says: 'Robin has been associated with the agency for so long that it will be a loss if he leaves. But the facts are that Stephen Woodford runs the company day to day. If Robin left, it would be an opportunity for others to emerge and become more prominent. Good agencies are a collection of strong people.'

So has the idea of the modestly titled consultancy 'Robin Wight and the Geniuses' reached his ears? He smiles and says: 'I have heard about it. If Robin finds someone willing to sponsor that concept, I'm sure he'd pursue it.'

Eskandarian acknowledges that the two UK agencies have had a rocky ride of late, but says: 'Both have been caught in unfortunate situations, but they are very resilient agencies. Orange was bad luck and bad timing. At the core they have a strong talent base.'

He speaks highly of both Woodford and Nigel Long, the chief executives of WCRS and Partners BDDH respectively, although he acknowledges that Woodford plays second fiddle to Wight in the reputation stakes.

Eskandarian also talks candidly about the problems facing Partners BDDH, which has seen an exodus of creatives, senior partners and flagship clients.

'The priority at Partners BDDH is to rebuild the creative strength of the agency,' he says. But the flailing performance of the agency cannot be laid completely at the feet of its lack of creative direction.

The ambiguity of Partners BDDH's position within Snyder after the stock plunge that followed Snyder's acquisition of Arnold in 1998 can't have helped. Further confusion about where Partners BDDH would sit within Havas surely followed after the latest deal was announced in February.

Indeed, speculation had been rife that a merger of the Havas UK interests could be on the cards, despite the obvious Mercedes and BMW conflict.

'I'll never say never,' Eskandarian says. 'But it's not in our current plans. A very viable reason to have two separate agencies in the UK is to handle conflicts.'

What, though, about the question of conflict for the network as a whole? 'It's a big issue,' Eskandarian admits. To name one example, the handling of car accounts within the network sees Partners BDDH handling Mercedes, WCRS handling BMW, and Arnold handling Volkswagen.

Such arrangements will stop AWP from being the worldwide agency for any of those brands. 'But it allows us to thrive in that market,' Eskandarian explains. 'If we need a partner in a country where we have conflict, we'll affiliate with another agency.'

Generally speaking, Eskandarian seems to have a fairly gung-ho attitude towards linking agencies, which is testament to his evident desire for the network to do well.

'If we want other agencies, we will find a partner in the Havas network, or we will buy them,' he continues, revealing the extent of the financial benevolence of the prosperous French parent.

It seems that some of that financial benevolence will be directed at sorting out the two UK agencies. 'They are undergoing some difficulty and now it is just a question of helping them,' he says. 'We will give them financial support because we are looking to succeed in the long term.'

Eskandarian is realistic enough to know that the AWP offering is not going to attract the biggest global players, unless they have a specific strategic problem in a particular market.

However, he believes that the network will appeal to clients whose desire for regionalisation of their international business will see them hiring by region. He will also be hoping to attract advertisers who are only semi-global.

Eskandarian is surprisingly frank about the hurdles AWP will need to overcome to realise its global ambitions. While it could be difficult to achieve global branding consistency if local shops retain their creative autonomy, Eskandarian believes global work has to be done market by market. He cites Volkswagen as an example of a client handled by Arnold in America, but by the DDB network elsewhere.

Eskandarian will also need to build AWP's media offering, as Campus was never known for its strength in this area. Here, Eskandarian can look to lever the Havas sister network, Media Planning Group - along with the agencies' existing media partnerships - to give clients 'the power of a large media buying operation with local planning knowledge'.

At the same time, though, it must be tempting for AWP to develop its own group through-the-line and interactive offerings. 'If the right opportunity came along and we were able to integrate our own, we would certainly look at it,' Eskandarian says.

Eskandarian cannot be expected to remain personally involved forever. Some have started asking questions about succession at Arnold, although Eskandarian has recently appointed Ron Lawner as the chairman and Francis Kelly III as the president of Arnold in America.

As to who will pick up the mantle at AWP upon his retirement, he is not giving any clues. 'My job is to make sure we have in place the next generation of leaders for a global network,' Eskandarian says. Whimsical cushions aside, he certainly doesn't seem near to ceding the throne yet.



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