The World: Brindley deal strengthens Aegis' Irish position

By adding Brindley to its Carat and Vizeum brands, Aegis has upped its investment in the Irish market.

Aegis' decision to buy Brindley Advertising earlier this month brought the Irish agency's independence to an end in a market where self-rule is becoming increasingly rare.

Brindley, founded by Basil Brindley in 1956, is one of Ireland's oldest agencies and has a particularly strong heritage in print buying. The deal will net Brindley and his fellow shareholders EUR4 million initially, rising to EUR12 million if performance targets are met over the next three years.

So what was it about Brindley that attracted Aegis, a group that is already strong in the Irish market? In a word, its accounts. Brindley holds the Government print advertising account, one of the country's most lucrative pieces of business. It also has a number of public sector clients, generating annual billings of EUR15 million, according to the Institute of Advertising Practitioners of Ireland. These clients include the Combined Universities of Ireland, the Irish Aviation Authority, the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland and the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority.

Nigel Sharrocks, the chief executive of Aegis Media UK and Ireland, explains: "Brindley is a large press buyer in Ireland so there was an opportunity to strengthen our position with a solid business and management team."

Brindley will become part of Aegis Media's global buying and planning division, but will keep its name. This means Aegis can now add Brindley to its Carat and Vizeum brands. Sharrocks says there is no need to bring Brindley under one of the existing businesses because it operates well as a standalone business.

Basil Brindley, who is invariably referred to by his colleagues as one of the Irish industry's "legends", says the fact the name will remain is "very nice" but adds it was not a stipulation of the deal. The 78-year-old ad veteran's reasons for selling were simple. "I've been 50 years in the business and I feel it's time to smell the roses," he says. "My wife has been wanting me to retire."

In selling the business, it was important to Brindley that all of his 18 staff remained at the agency and that he stayed on as chairman for the next three years.

The Irish media landscape may increasingly resemble that of the UK but there are still some differences, not least the difficulty of sourcing accurate market data.

Press is the dominant medium and Aegis, with the combined billings of Carat and Vizeum, is the leading media agency, with a spend of almost EUR10.8 million, according to the most recent figures from the National Newspapers of Ireland. Aegis is followed by MindShare/Mediaedge:cia, with EUR8.3 million, and Brindley, with EUR7.2 million.

It has been suggested that Brindley, despite its impressive heritage, is an agency on the wane. Some observers claim its hold on the big government contracts is weakening, pointing to its loss of the Dublin City Council business.

Brindley dismisses this, arguing: "We have hit number one in the National Newspapers of Ireland list and we've never been out of the top three in the past ten years."

Liam McDonnell, the chief operating officer at Aegis Media Ireland, agrees: "There was some inference that Brindley had business by default and was a bit past it, but it's not the case. It lost Dublin City Council, but replaced it almost immediately with the Combined Universities of Ireland."

Richard Law, the managing director of Starcom MediaVest Group, values the Irish advertising market at around EUR1.4 billion a year, with print - including the booming recruitment classified sector - accounting for 66 per cent of this figure.

An Englishman in Ireland, Law is well placed to assess the differences between the two markets. "Ireland took a while to catch up with the UK in moving towards media independents. But once it did, it was very quick," he says. "Now all the big names are here or moving here. Some have kept the local names but most would be familiar in the UK."

Indeed, a quick scan of the NNI's top 20 media agencies includes the likes of Initiative, MediaCom, ZenithOptimedia and Universal McCann, as well Carat, Vizeum, Mediaedge:cia and MindShare.

However, creative and media are more clearly divided in Ireland than they are in the UK. The creative media strategy outfits that are increasingly bridging the gap between the two disciplines in the UK are distinctly absent from the Irish market. This is because the market is not big enough to sustain such disciplines as separate entities, according to Law.

"The market is relatively small," he explains. "It's good and bad to be next to an advertising giant like the UK. People expect the same level of competence, but without the budget."

However, the continued British investment shows that while the Irish market may be small, it is both interesting and important to UK companies.

Jim Marshall, the chairman of Starcom UK, describes Ireland as "vibrant and growing", while McDonnell says deals are there to be made as the market consolidates and becomes more competitive.

"The Irish economy has grown so strongly in the past few years and the market was under-advertised," McDonnell explains. "It is only recently that many clients have become viable."