PERSPECTIVE: Syzygy deal gives WPP a stake in the new-media future

Perhaps it is because it is such a nightmare to spell, but the news that WPP had last week taken a stake in Syzygy (pronounced ’Sizzergy’) received scant coverage in the press.

Perhaps it is because it is such a nightmare to spell, but the news

that WPP had last week taken a stake in Syzygy (pronounced ’Sizzergy’)

received scant coverage in the press.



For those who don’t know, Syzygy is a new-media company whose clients

include Pepsi, Kodak, Kraft, Kimberly-Clark and Duracell. Its name,

apparently, refers to a nirvana-like state achieved when two or more

bodies are in optimum alignment and is not, as I had thought, a word that

means nothing in any language (like Kodak). Syzygy’s name is intended to

reflect the harmonious alignment of marketing, creativity and technology -

which just goes to show that new-media companies can be as pretentious as

agencies.



But this is not about poking fun at a company with a daft name. In fact,

having looked at some of its work, Syzygy is one of a clutch of

interesting companies operating in this field - but its entry into the WPP

stable may give it the platform from which it can lift itself above the

competition.



But if it is obvious what WPP can do for Syzygy, it’s more interesting to

look at what Syzygy can do for WPP. What most people won’t know is that

WPP now has stakes in six new-media companies, each representing a

different facet of the business. They range from Wired Ventures (producing

advertising-driven content for the Web); to BroadVision (Web-based direct

marketing); and Peapod, a US online home shopping specialist whose average

customer ’grocery basket’ spend is, at dollars 120, ten times the average

supermarket basket.



Individually these are all small companies, but collectively they give WPP

access to a huge range of market intelligence and a variety of

perspectives about the digital future, which it can then pass on to the

likes of Ogilvy and Mather and J. Walter Thompson. In a phrase, it’s

covering off all the bases. But let’s make one thing clear. This and the

other WPP deals are not about money yet - they scarcely make an impression

on the report and accounts - but about learning.



It’s ironic that WPP, which is something of an arriviste as agency holding

companies go, completed the Syzygy deal in the very week that one of its

peers, Cordiant, disappeared into oblivion. What is the point of a holding

company if not to give its operating companies that extra edge? And,

arguably, it is in this murky area, where new media meets advertising and

marketing, that the need to tap into a different way of thinking is

greatest. Of the other big agency holding companies, Omnicom is the only

one I know to be doing something similar. The truth is that the ones that

don’t build up this kind of portfolio of new-media expertise will

inevitably see their agencies and media operations left behind. The secret

is in finding a way of transfering and sharing all this knowledge around

the group. You can bet there are more than a few WPP companies whose

clients would like to discover the secrets of Peapod’s basket.



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