Editorial: Agencies' independent cultures worth retaining

Several new millionaires were created in adland last year. 2005 was the year of the deals, when many of the strongest agencies sold their independence for eye-watering sums.

The rush of sales was not coincidental. The conditions were right for a good price, particularly for ad agencies - the downturn was retreating, so potential suitors felt more optimistic and the agencies were operating at what felt like the peak of their respective games. These independents had for the previous five years been raiding the network-aligned agencies, poaching several big domestic clients.

All the companies that sold to larger organisations were run by groups of individuals who had made huge personal sacrifices and taken big risks, so few could begrudge them their millions. But preparing for a sale, putting a deal into place, was the greatest challenge any of them had faced (Anatomy of a Deal, page 24). The most precious asset of any successful agency is its culture, something determined by the founders' personalities, the kinds of clients they attract and their attitude towards their staff. In selling their independence, all agencies risk damaging their cultures.

Already we have witnessed Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners, now owned by Creston, laying off staff. Would glue London have resigned its award-magnet Pot Noodle client if its new owner, Aegis, were not putting pressure on it to improve margins? Such events do not spell the end of these companies' respective success stories, but rather the advent of the evolution of a new culture. There is no doubt that this process is a bumpy ride: remember the agonising soul-searching Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO had to go through in 2001, when it made its first redundancies.

But the acquiring companies must understand that in order to protect their investment, they must let the new culture evolve slowly and steadily. Any knee-jerk demands for improved bottom lines will damage the asset for which they have shelled out vast sums of money.

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