WCRS 1979-1999: The French affair - WCRS has always played down its French connection but now Havas wants to cement the relationship through the new Campus network

WCRS has always refused to be pigeonholed. The agency proved its non-conformist credentials in 1983 when it made its intrepid debut on the Unlisted Securities Market and set itself on a course which eventually led to a takeover by the French group, Eurocom, in 1990.

WCRS has always refused to be pigeonholed. The agency proved its

non-conformist credentials in 1983 when it made its intrepid debut on

the Unlisted Securities Market and set itself on a course which

eventually led to a takeover by the French group, Eurocom, in 1990.



By 1991, the demise of WCRS as a standalone brand was being widely

predicted.



As a senior manager at the time remembers: ’The French wanted an agency

called Euro WCRSCG.’ It made sense for Eurocom - which had just merged

with RSCG - to consolidate its five London shops in one single

configuration.



At the time, WCRS was the network’s flagship London shop, but it was

only number 12 in the agency league and Euro was used to being number

one.



This shaky beginning was probably the most fraught time in the history

of the relationship between WCRS and the French. As one insider

remembers: ’The French had a problem with WCRS. They thought we were

hugely arrogant because we fought to stay independent. It seemed like

they would never forgive us but they couldn’t risk pissing off the

management by forcing a merger.’



Alain de Pouzilhac, the chairman and chief executive of Havas

Advertising, has a slightly different recollection of the era: ’WCRS was

not in such a good position then. Of course we were not going to be

popular when we changed the management, but when we were upset we were

always able to talk about it.’



In the end the WCRS brand was strong enough to survive unscathed.

Looking back, Robin Wight can appreciate the generosity of the French

parent: ’If we had been owned by Americans they would have thought they

know better than us. There are few areas in which the French concede the

Anglo-Saxons are better, but they do recognise our historic strength in

advertising.’



After the Eurocom takeover, WCRS found itself with a rare second chance

and quickly capitalised on it. Having spent most of the 80s trying to

conquer the world and build a network from scratch, the agency had

overstretched itself and lost its way.



The WCRS empire was separated and the headquarters of the Eurocom/WCRS

Group advertising agency network, EWDB (Eurocom WCRS Della Femina Ball),

was moved from London to Paris. Once again, WCRS was a straightforward

London advertising agency, although this time it had the security of a

group parent.



Once WCRS had established a satisfactory independence, it could

concentrate on its own development. The French managed the world stage,

leaving WCRS to concentrate on strengthening its position with some

top-level hirings and a rash of new business. The BMW relationship was

solid and the agency won the regional electricity privatisation

account.



The French owners took a step back. As long as WCRS was delivering

healthy profits, there was no need to interfere. But, as one of the

agency’s former executives says: ’Euro doesn’t like not being the

biggest. There was always a sword of Damocles hanging over the agency -

if ever it faltered, a merger with Euro RSCG was always a

possibility.’



But WCRS threw off this threat by going from strength to strength. By

1994 it had re-established its creative reputation and had hired Larry

Barker and Rooney Carruthers from Bartle Bogle Hegarty to beef up the

creative department.



’Most people who work here would probably be surprised to find out that

we don’t own ourselves,’ Wight says. ’We have always been allowed our

independence because we make money and do good advertising.’



In 1996, Euro RSCG signalled its faith in WCRS by appointing Wight as

chairman of its new second network, Campus. Campus was launched by

Thomas Rempen, chairman and chief executive of an eponymously named

(non-Euro RSCG) German shop, with a big fanfare and lots of jargon. It

was ’a worknet, not a network’ with a ’mission to add value without

adding costs’.



And then it all went rather quiet. There seemed to be no immediate

prospect of any international clients and the network was no more than a

loose arrangement of WCRS, Rempen and three other European agencies -

France’s Australie, Ata-Tonic in Milan and Ruiz Nicoli in Madrid.



Campus was left to languish while Euro RSCG concentrated on its own

position.



There was the creation of a parent company for the two networks, Havas

Advertising, and its holding company, Havas, which was in turn acquired

by the French utilities giant, Compagnie Generale des Eaux (now

Vivendi), in 1998.



This year, though, the focus is back on Campus, on revitalising and

expanding the concept rather than just purchasing another network

wholesale. de Pouzilhac says he and Jean Pierre Audour, the

vice-president of Havas responsible for Campus, are working on ’a big

new adventure’. They want to create a second-string network with ’a

strong character and creative spirit’ which will be ’compact’, made up

of agencies from no more than 12 countries.



For many WCRS clients, the French connection is completely in the

background.



Hans Snook, the group managing director of Hutchison Telecom, says: ’I

don’t think about whether or not I’m working with a French agency. I

don’t think of WCRS as anything other than a good agency.’ Peter

Kinnaird, the managing director of another client, Land Rover, agrees:

’I have no feeling of working with a French agency. The shareholders are

in the background.’



It is exactly clients like Orange and Land Rover that de Pouzilhac hopes

to attract into the new-look Campus. He has cast WCRS as one of the

leaders of the new network drive and praises the agency for its

’vitality’ and recent speed of growth.



But de Pouzilhac still wants more. His immediate ambition for WCRS is to

see it listed among the top five creative agencies in the UK. ’I hope it

is possible to reach that goal,’ he says, and with rare French humility,

adds: ’British advertising is the best in the world.’



THE HISTORY OF THE FRENCH EVOLUTION



1979 WCRS founded.



1983 WCRS makes its debut on the Unlisted Securities Market.



1984 WCRS advances to a full Stock Exchange listing and uses the cash

raised on acquisitions. It buys the public relations company, Biss

Lancaster, then the US agency, Della Femina, then FCO, the Ball

Partnership and Alan Pascoe Associates.



1987 WCRS takes a 49 per cent stake in the French PR company, Belier,

and in return, Belier’s parent, Eurocom, takes a 20 per cent stake in

WCRS Group plc.



1989 Eurocom ups its stake in WCRS’s agency business from 20 to 60 per

cent and a new agency network is created - Eurocom WCRS Della Femina

Ball (EWDB).



1990 Eurocom groups EWDB with HDM to form Eurocom Advertising following

the deal to take 100 per cent of HDM Europe (bought from Dentsu and

Young & Rubicam). In the UK, Eurocom Advertising now has a stake in FCO,

WCRS and HDM Horner Collis and Kirvan. The new group has billings of

dollars 3.4 billion.



1991 Eurocom merges with RSCG.



1992 All the Euro RSCG London shops merge to form Euro RSCG Madell

Wilmot, except WCRS, which remains autonomous.



1996 The launch of Campus - a loose arrangement of five European

agencies - with Robin Wight as chairman and Thomas Rempen as chief

executive. Euro RSCG Worldwide regroups as four divisions under a new

holding company, Havas Advertising: Campus, Euro RSCG, Mediapolis,

Diversified Agencies.



1999 Havas announces a relaunch of Campus and buys a majority stake in

the German ad agency, Rempen & Partner, one of the Campus partners.



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