Close-Up: Dentsu highlights its global ambitions

The Japanese comms giant has hired Jim Kelly to spearhead its assault on Europe.

With what some might argue is almost monotonous regularity, every year for the past seven has seen Campaign address the story of how Dentsu, the Japanese communications behemoth, is trying to reach out from its Tokyo home to conquer the world.

The tone is always one of optimism but the subtext one of resignation because the strategy - throw some money (one thing the business isn't short of) at it, see what sticks, find out nothing has and head back East - inevitably ends in failure.

So will the appointment of Jim Kelly as the regional director for Dentsu Europe spell out a different, happier ending for a company that certainly has the cash to play on the world stage? It's telling that he is only the second non-Japanese executive to hold a senior role there, after Tim Andree, the president and chief executive of Dentsu Holdings USA, who has been spearheading growth in the US for the past three years and who Kelly will report to.

Andree says: "To run a successful European network, you need a European - that is absolutely essential. And to build a successful local agency, you need local talent, and Jim knows so much about the London scene."

This assault is also the first time Dentsu has attacked Europe in such a direct way. In 2002, it signed a deal to buy 15 per cent of Publicis Groupe for an undisclosed sum (but you can be sure it wasn't the sort of money you'd find behind the sofa). However, an insider says it is more of an "investment than an alliance". It's also thought that senior executives at the two companies are not the closest of bedfellows - so it has never been a way for Dentsu to break into Europe properly.

Kelly's brief will be to replicate some of the moves Andree has made in the US. In simple terms, these were to get all of the local Dentsu businesses into one building, rebrand them and then look for an acquisition to build the brand and the revenue stream. In the end, he plumped for the New York-based advertising agency mcgarrybowen.

For Kelly, in London, this means finding a new office for Dentsu UK (formerly CDP) and Attik, its design consultancy, which will also act as the group's European HQ. He won't, however, be running both businesses day-to-day.

He says: "I'll sit over the shop and be able to touch the controls, but I won't be doing all the steering."

Attik, which was launched by two punks in the attic of one of their mum's houses in Huddersfield, has offices in San Francisco and Leeds as well as in London and will provide Kelly with a digital element to his UK operation.

Dentsu London will offer the classic advertising approach, but Kelly is hoping that the new office will see an integration and skill-sharing between the two bases. "It's a good little agency and makes a profit, but it will now have a bit more budget," he says. In fact, Kelly adds, it will jump from 23 people to more than 50 by spring next year: "It just needs some TLC."

He also brushes aside possible problems with the renaming from CDP, which happened last year but hasn't fully come into effect yet: "It's been a long time since it has been the CDP that everyone would recognise - it's a fresh start with a fresh management system."

Kelly's also clear on the job he needs to do in Europe, where Dentsu has a limited presence with offices in Germany and Italy and a TAG-like business in Brussels: "What we won't be doing is old-fashioned network building by plonking an office in every capital city - the networks that have done this don't even want that anymore. If some mcgarrybowen work needs doing, we'll see if we can handle that and, like London, I'll be looking for interesting acquisitions."

In this area, he sees Cheil, the Korean network, as a serious competitor. However, Kelly won't be drawn into commenting on whether he expects to be racing Bruce Haines (another Brit who is in charge of growing an Eastern powerhouse and who bought Beattie McGuinness Bungay last year) to sign up new businesses.

Although in control of a very large chequebook, Kelly will need to check with his boss before flashing the cash. Andree says: "Not even I have an open chequebook, but there is definitely room for investment if the right opportunity, or opportunities, present themselves."

Kelly admits that he has missed running an agency over the past couple of years, after he and Robert Campbell failed to keep Uni-ted London afloat. Since then, he has been doing consultancy work with agencies and clients but has become more and more excited about rejoining agency life.

Kelly says: "I was in talks with Dentsu for three months and am confident we can make a success of this. Everything at Dentsu starts with the client. By not having a massive presence in Europe, they can't handle the Japanese business over here and they see that as throwing money away."

He also believes that the company has learnt from its problems of the past and is not expecting to become as big as it is in Japan or find instant success on the back of frivolous spending.

"It's all about gaining credibility now. Not just trying to force success. It's a different attitude and a different approach," Kelly says.

It will obviously take a little bit more than confidence and enthusiasm, but Kelly is a proven operator with a lot of experience and may be just what Dentsu needs.

THE LOWDOWN ON DENTSU
Launched: 1901
Employs
- Globally: 11,100
- In Japan: 6,530
Offices worldwide
- 93 in 27 countries
Top five clients in Japan
- Toyota, Panasonic, Suntory, Honda, Sony
Top five clients in Europe
- Toyota, Lexus, Goldwell, Shiseido, Skoda
Latest financial figures
1 April 2008 to 31 March 2009
- Gross profit - £2,009 million (Yen314,474 million)
- Operating income - £276 million (Yen43,184 million)
Attik
- Bought in October 2007. Clients include Coca-Cola, Adidas and Scion
CDP
- Bought in January 1984. Decision taken to rebrand as Dentsu London in
2008. Main clients include Canon, Hitachi and Uniqlo

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