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
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,
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
McLeod admits there will be casualties, but insists the move will be
positive for both agencies: "This is a logical step for us and
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
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
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."