EDITORIAL: Howell's venture is a lost opportunity

Rupert Howell has always coupled evangelical zeal with innovative thinking in everything he does. So it's sad to hear that his latest venture has collapsed before it got going.

The Growth Organisation was to have been the vehicle by which he was to put into practice his evolving theories about the future of advertising and its associated disciplines. However, his failure to get the venture off the ground comes as little surprise given the problems at Cordiant and Howell's former employer, Chime.

Even Howell himself acknowledges that his plan to form an umbrella holding company for a network of companies providing a range of services to clients from business strategy to advertising carries an element of risk. Yet he had brought with him an impressive track record. As a founding partner of HHCL & Partners, he helped define one of the few truly original agencies of the past 20 years and one of the first to recognise that a growing consumer sophistication was running ahead of the ability of many traditional shops to match it.

And there's little doubt that Howell's latest brainchild acknowledged an important truth - that today's global supergroups are still searching for the kind of synergy between their subsidiary operations that will convince clients that an integrated service is worth paying for. As he says: "Owning a socket set doesn't make you a plumber."

And therein lies his problem. A cautious financial community wanted to see value extracted from each individual deal The Growth Organisation would do. Howell argued that value could only be properly extracted from the whole entity.

He has a point. Since the heady 80s when agency networks, frustrated at the amount of business lost through conflict and determined to achieve improved efficiencies, came together under single holding companies, the battle to win over cynical clients has yet to be won.

At the very least, Howell's start-up would have recognised what clients need most from their marketing consultants - the talent to spot the growth areas at the earliest possible stage and knowing how best to exploit them. To do that effectively, a cohesive set-up of the kind he proposed would have been essential.

So what now for Howell? Too old to return to the hurly burly of running an agency, too young to have lost his appetite for the business, his ambitions for the Growth Room smothered before birth, he's in an unenviable position. But if anyone can bounce back, Howell will.

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