CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/CDP-TRAVISSULLY - Travissully merger marks end of CDP's distinguished career. Merger of travissully with CDP will not solve Dentsu's woes

The news that the Japanese giant Dentsu is merging its two UK

agencies comes as no surprise (Campaign, last week).



CDP, which lost its flagship Honda business to Wieden & Kennedy earlier

this year, is being bundled together with travissully to cope with an

aggressively down-turning market.



But Dentsu has not seized the opportunity to stamp its name on London's

adland - instead, the new agency is taking the convoluted name of

cdp-travissully.



The official line is that Dentsu is keen to use established agency names

within its territories, rather than extend its own brand. In fact, it

would lose considerable face if it were to drop the original names -

after all, it was these that Dentsu invested in in the first place.

Preserving the names of CDP, which it wholly owns, and travissully, in

which it has a majority stake, is the best of a variety of options for

the Japanese holding company.



Travissully's founders, Peter Travis and Gill Sully, have their feet

firmly in the door of the new agency, as the chief executive and the

creative director respectively. CDP's chief executive, Chris McLeod,

becomes chairman.



But it seems unlikely that CDP's managing director, Simon Myers, will

remain in the frame, putting his deputy, Simon North, in pole position

for the job at cdp-travissully.



And what of the new joint creative directors, Mick Mahoney and Andy

Amadeo? Neither will be drawn on their future, but it seems unlikely,

having taken charge of a creative department, that they will be content

to deputise.



McLeod admits there will be casualties, but insists the move will be

positive for both agencies: "This is a logical step for us and

Dentsu.



It creates a stronger agency with a unique offering and an impressive

client list." Travis is also keen to play down the diminishing stature

of both agencies: "Many international networks want to strengthen their

presence by unifying their agencies - particularly at the moment."



But bullishness aside, Dentsu's consolidation cannot fail to mask the

fragility of CDP's grasp on the UK market. While the loss of the Honda

account was undoubtedly instrumental in last week's restructure, the

seeds to CDP's downturn were planted years ago, even before Dentsu's

arrival.



Much has been written about its creative heritage - showcased in a

collection published by the agency last year - but the break-away of

Frank Lowe in the mid-80s started a downward spiral from which the

agency has never recovered.



Lowe took a string of clients, which CDP found hard to replace. A sale

to Dentsu beckoned, with the Japanese contingent keen to own the agency

that handled one of its key clients, Toyota, in the UK.



But shortly after the £60 million deal, Toyota moved its account

to Saatchi & Saatchi, leaving Dentsu executives dismayed and the value

of the agency, in their eyes, severely diminished.



Ben Langdon, now the regional director of McCann-Erickson, was hired as

managing director of CDP in 1993 with a brief to stop the haemorrhage

and scotch rumours that the famous CDP name was flailing and the agency

was up for sale.



A string of wins - including Allied Bakeries, Courts and Littlewoods -

climaxed with the arrival of the Honda business. But while account wins

were on the up, CDP's trademark creativity had failed to find a secure

footing. Langdon was snaffling accounts quickly enough to satisfy Dentsu

but there was no immediate raising of creative standards to lock them in

for the long term. When Langdon left for McCann in 1996, McLeod, who

joined the same year, took over the reins.



The creative department remained in decline, blighted by a high turnover

of senior staff. The Halifax house creator, Loz Simpson, was hired by

the executive creative director, Adrian Kemsley, to spearhead the Honda

account in 1997 and stop the rot, but by 2000 the two, plus the head of

art, Rob Kitchen, had left, leaving the department lacking

direction.



Amadeo and Mahoney arrived from Lowe Lintas earlier this year to take on

the challenge of reviving the creative department but, with hindsight,

the move seems to have been too little, too late.



"Dentsu needed to take action and decide what it wanted to do in the UK,

but in hanging on to the dual branding now, it has still failed to make

that decision," one former executive claims.



"People thought the CDP brand was invincible. Well, it's not. Two wrongs

don't make a right."



Topics