Opinion: Perspective - United's inception signals exciting times ahead

Sir Martin Sorrell, the WPP Group chief executive, is not a man you normally associate with failure, but his Red Cell network, renamed yet again last week as the Voluntarily United Group of Agencies (or United for short), has never been a network you associate with success.

It has long limped along, the poor relative of the mighty Ogilvy & Mather and JWT networks, first as Lansdown Conquest, then Conquest, then Red Cell. The mighty Andy Berlin was brought in in 2003, but no miracle occurred.

Instead, his radical and creatively led approach to advertising was immediately at odds with Red Cell's stodgy and unambitious positioning as a mid-sized network that served its clients well without distressing them with any suggestion of creative integrity.

Added to this, rather than build the network he was supposedly heading, his time and talent has been sapped by repeated summons to help in holding-company-level pitches for the likes of Samsung and Jaguar. But now he's been given his train-set. The launch of United will enable Berlin to install his vision and, in turn, enable WPP to tap Berlin's potential. It will be a micro network, composed of nine agencies with strong creative heritages, such as Sra. Rushmore United in Madrid and WM United in Buenos Aires.

It has the potential to quench the thirst of multi-national clients seeking innovative advertising solutions. As a WPP subsidiary, United will have access to both Unilever and Procter & Gamble. It is territory Berlin has already trodden with some success with Coca-Cola. Given its current woes, Lowe's client list could make rich pickings for a network like United.

United has taken two years to come to fruition, not least because launching a micro network in this instance involved persuading WPP that radical downsizing was a good idea.

United has about 40 fewer outposts than Red Cell. The shops that have been abandoned will mostly be rolled into other WPP networks, although this is a complicated process. For instance, Batey Red Cell in Singapore has conflict issues galore with its sister networks, making a quick and easy merger impossible.

But these problems have now ceased to be on United's patch; more immediately worrying, therefore, is the bad news coming out of United's key London office, HHCL United, this week: the agency's chief executive has upped sticks and moved to Clemmow Hornby Inge. Nick Howarth has close ties to HHCL's £70 million BSkyB account, never famed for long-term loyalty to any agency.

Crucially, the Sky business accounts for about two-thirds of HHCL United's billings. You can be sure that CHI is preparing a charm offensive tailored to the precise tastes of Mr James Murdoch. Amanda Walsh, the European head of United, will need to act fast to replace Howarth with someone Sky will buy, and someone who will enable the agency to improve its poor pitch performance.

London aside, these are exciting times for United and WPP. A micro network with an innovative creative reputation will work well as an alternative to the holding company's client-services-focused Ogilvy, JWT and Grey.

The descendant of Lansdown Conquest may yet end up becoming WPP's leanest, fittest, and most appealing above-the-line property.

Have you seen V8's new spot yet? It's pure Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners. Pieces of fruit and vegetables dancing around while singing "oh what a beautiful morning" (geddit, Campbell's wants V8 to be our breakfast drink of choice). Happy and friendly people or objects singing and dancing in ever-more ridiculous fashions have become DLKW's magic formula. We've had Howard from the Halifax, Ambrosia's tummies and a singing frog to promote Evergreen fertilisers. The creative work will never trouble a jury, but its crowd-pleasing potential certainly wins pitches.

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