When people say we're a federation, not a network, it's horseshit," Andy Berlin, the chairman and chief executive of Red Cell, says. Launched in 2001 on a wave of rhetoric about attracting "challenger brands", Red Cell now has a collection of highly regarded local shops after WPP acquisitions such as Berlin Cameron in New York and, most recently, Sra.Rushmore in Madrid.
Red Cell has now ditched the challenger brands philosophy to become WPP's creative micronetwork, in the process positioning itself as the nimble alternative to sprawling traditionalists.
It is certainly making a concerted effort to eschew the unwieldy bureaucracies that typify its more established rivals. "Our take on the network, which we share with Bartle Bogle Hegarty, is the idea that we don't need to have a footprint in every market in the world," Berlin says. "Red Cell affords more room for the enterprise of its people and the motivation that characterises independent agencies."
While Red Cell agencies have won impressive local accounts, the network has yet to make a major impression as a global entity. Surely a network needs to share clients if it is to be more than a group of agencies with a common name?
Amanda Walsh, the chief executive of Red Cell Europe, doesn't doubt there are advertisers that will buy into the Red Cell offering. But who are these clients? Walsh reveals Red Cell is in talks with a number of blue-chip companies. "In 12 months, we will have won significant international business," she promises, "and I don't want to start flag-waving until we've done that. There are a lot of clients who don't need a traditional network, but who need to feel there's a backbone. That's what WPP gives us."
Red Cell is currently pitching for a pan-European telecoms client and Sir Martin Sorrell, WPP's chief executive, is rumoured to be trying to persuade Procter & Gamble to cast a glance in his micronetwork's direction.
No doubt seeing BBH pick up more Unilever business has given him a few ideas.
Despite its ability to service demanding advertisers such as Sky and Coca-Cola, Red Cell's new-business machine didn't get going last year, instead aiding other WPP networks on 2004's megapitches.
Red Cell's past 12 months has been more about shaping up and getting key personnel in place. Walsh joined a year ago; Charlie Robertson, the global strategic officer, started in February 2005. His remits are new business and raising Red Cell's profile. Neither visibility nor clients can arrive too soon.
Lee Daley, the chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi, believes Red Cell is capable of great things. He was the network's global chief executive and chief strategic officer from December 2001 to February 2004 and has cited "making the Red Cell network a reality" among his proudest achievements.
Daley says: "Increasingly, you're going to find clients who don't want agencies to mirror their structure. If Red Cell wants to win global business, it can do it off the back of having a brilliant idea that seamlessly crosses markets without the need for adaptation."
Unlike many networks that hanker after synergy, Red Cell prefers its agencies to keep their names and chase local business. Berlin insists this is a selling point: "Advertising is a work in progress, so having a network that comes out of that chrysalis stage is advantageous."
For a network that has distanced itself from its previous strategy of chasing challenger brands, there's a certain irony in Red Cell now resembling a challenger network. It may have the backing of WPP , but now it feels it has more in common with BBH than it does with Ogilvy & Mather. Like the former, Red Cell certainly has a wide range of creative offices; it now needs to demonstrate that it can use them as a matter of urgency.
- Global advertising, page 49
RED CELL'S HOTTEST SHOPS
New York: Berlin Cameron/Red Cell
Clients include: Coca-Cola, Nestle Purina, NBA
London: HHCL/Red Cell
Clients include: Sky, Pot Noodle, Food Standards Agency
Paris: Les Ouvriers/Red Cell
Clients include: De Beers, Glamour magazine, Nina Ricci
Milan: Red Cell
Clients include: Alfa Romeo, Sky Italia, Yamaha
Singapore: Batey/Red Cell
Clients include: Mercedes, Singapore Airlines, Singapore Red Cross
Spain: Delvico/Red Cell
Clients include: Mahou (beer), Telepizza
Clients include: Coca-Cola, Diageo, El Corte Ingles (department store)