Another one bites the dust. Publicis' acquisition of Triangle
leaves the UK's top ten independent direct marketing and promotional
agencies looking distinctly lightweight.
It was only a matter of time before Triangle, the largest of the
independents, was snapped up. WPP, among others, had made recent
approaches for the agency that turned 25 last year. Martin Sorrell
intended to link Triangle with J. Walter Thompson, but in the end JWT
cut a deal with rival promotional marketing agency Black Cat.
The founder and chairman of Triangle, Kevin Twittey, guarded against
unwanted predators for years before deciding to sell. He says Triangle
chose Publicis because it was attractive as a group and the chemistry
with Maurice Levy, the Publicis chairman, was perfect.
Triangle's history is a colourful one. By the late 80s it had grown into
a network of 12 offices employing 400 people and was about to go public
when the flotation had to be pulled amid mounting debts. Twittey says
Triangle lost pounds 1.3 million in 1988/89 and only completed its debt
repayments in 1997.
Having steered Triangle back into prosperity, Twittey was faced with the
option of selling or talking to the City again in order to raise the
capital needed to compete once more on the international stage.
Publicis has certainly bought a profitable operation - last year
Triangle made a pre-tax profit of pounds 1.9 million. However,
fluctuations in the agency's profitability - the year before it made
just pounds 582,000 - may have put some suitors off.
Triangle is predominantly a sales promotion, retail marketing and event
company. Some 22 per cent of its income comes from direct marketing. Its
retail and event expertise, built on work for clients including Safeway,
Guinness and Cadbury, is what attracted Publicis.
Publicis intends to link Triangle with Saatchi & Saatchi. Triangle will
continue to operate as a separate company, but will use Saatchis'
network to build a presence overseas. The agency will also work with
Saatchis' clients in the UK where needed, and will refer its own clients
to the ad agency if it meets their requirements.
Explaining the reasons for the deal, Levy says: 'For us it is a
fantastic opportunity to strengthen our position in the UK, while having
the opportunity of servicing Saatchis' clients that are growing in both
the UK and Europe.'
Triangle and Saatchis will sit down over the coming weeks to work out
ways of working together. Tamara Ingram, the UK chairman of Saatchi &
Saatchi, says: 'Triangle is a separate company but it is fair to say
that there will be opportunities. We can offer a network and there will
be mutual learning and training possibilities. They have extra areas,
such as events, where we could use a partner.'
The deal was very much Levy's baby, although Saatchis' worldwide chief
executive, Kevin Roberts, and Derek Bowden, the chairman of Europe and
the Middle East, were involved further down the line. The late
involvement of Saatchis' executives may explain why the details of the
Triangle/Saatchis relationship are still to be ironed out.
Twittey argues that the relationship with Saatchis will work because
many clients still work in silos, placing marketing services
requirements with specialist agencies.
'If a business relies on direct marketing or promotional marketing it is
not going to go to BBH or Leo Burnett or Saatchi & Saatchi,' he
'Where Saatchi & Saatchi have clients like that we can have a
However, Saatchis' own strength in UK direct marketing and promotional
marketing should not be ignored. As part of its positioning as an
'ideas' agency, it has built a strong integrated offering for clients
that require marketing services support.
In the past year it has won the top awards at both the Direct Marketing
Association and Institute of Sales Promotion awards and has received
more than 20 nominations for the Campaign Direct Awards next month. The
agency employs 127 people with integrated expertise and produces direct
work for clients including the Army, Telewest and Procter & Gamble.
What can Triangle add to this? The agency is split into four divisions:
Storm (retailer services), Perceptor (online), Eye2Eye (production) and
the core sales promotion agency, Triangle Communications. Twittey says
this structure, employing about 200 people, will remain roughly the
same, and that promotional marketing will stay at the centre of the
For Triangle itself, the deal provides the opportunity to establish an
overseas network relatively quickly. This will initially focus on a move
into Europe and the Far East.
Twittey believes Publicis was the best option to drive this forward:
'Publicis is not knee-deep in other marketing services companies. WPP or
Omnicom have ten or 12 other Triangles.'
It remains to be seen how successful Triangle's business will be when
exported overseas. As Twittey points out, there are local barriers with
promotional marketing that do not exist with media or advertising. It
will also be interesting to watch how Triangle and Saatchis work
together in the UK given the ad agency's apparent strength in the direct
and promotional marketing field.