HPT Brand Response is located in a former gentleman's club on the
achingly cool Greek Street. Impiric, on the other hand, can be found at
Greater London House - far away from most beaten tracks. The difference
represents the opposing cultures of the two agencies, which announced
their pending merger last week, and therefore highlights the challenge
facing Martin Troughton and Steve Harrison.
The pair are the 'H' and the 'T' in HPT. The 'P', Tim Patten, left at
the end of last year and is in the process of founding a direct/digital
consultancy within HHCL & Partners. Harrison and Troughton, who own the
majority of HPT, will now own a minority of the WPP-owned Impiric. The
deal has been engineered by Impiric's European chief executive, Stewart
Pearson, who is confidently handing control of the London agency to
Harrison and Troughton. The move will see the existing Impiric managing
director, Richard Bagnall-Smith, leave the agency, and the creative
directors, Graham Mills and Jack Nolan, replaced with Harrison, 'the
godfather of direct marketing creativity'.
The move bears an uncanny resemblance to Young & Rubicam's acquisition
of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe 18 months ago. In fact, Rainey Kelly has
owned a significant minority of HPT since it was founded, while Y&R owns
Impiric. When Rainey Kelly was merged into Y&R, the management of the
much larger Y&R left and the Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe founders took
Pearson has bought Harrison and Troughton for good reason. Wunderman
Cato Johnson, which was rebranded Impiric last year, was one of the most
famous brands in direct marketing.
However, under its former global chief, Jay Bingle, it changed
direction. The network began to position itself more as a management
consultancy than a direct agency and gave itself a suitably meaningless
moniker. Bingle, following WPP's acquisition of Impiric's Y&R parent
last year, has departed. Many expect the Impiric name to be dropped in
favour of a return to the Wunderman brand. For now the London outpost
will be called HPT/Impiric.
David Butter, Impiric's European executive vice-president, explains the
thinking behind the HPT deal: 'We want a breath of fresh air - to unlock
the potential.' Steve Aldridge, a former creative director at WCJ and
founder of Partners Andrews Aldridge, adds: 'They are looking to give it
some edge. Impiric is in a secure position with global clients so it has
become a bit complacent. It needs focus. You felt it's the kind of place
where great creative work won't be appreciated because there is such a
big global corporate culture.'
This is where Harrison and Troughton's biggest task lies. The pair have
to imbue the culture of Impiric, and its staff of about 85 people, with
HPT's brand of creatively led business nous. Harrison is proud that
every one of HPT's 35 members of staff is part of a creative process:
'At the moment we have 35 people in our creative department.' At HPT you
are as likely to see the receptionist or a suit going up to collect a
creative award as you are a creative. Harrison's ambition is to
replicate this thinking on a larger scale at HPT/Impiric.
It's a big ambition and Harrison says it will require 'constant
vigilance', but he adds that he feels reassured 'because I've done it
before'. He's referring to his stint at OgilvyOne, where he became one
of the most highly regarded creatives in the business despite the large,
corporate nature of the agency and its clients. Aldridge thinks Harrison
can pull it off: 'He will be able to create a sense of creative worth
and culture. He's one of the few people who can do it.'
Harrison and Troughton claim they don't have any pending bad news which
has made them cut a deal while HPT is on a high. 'We don't have any
skeletons in our closet,' Troughton says. Instead they are motivated by
the desire to be big and handle international clients. Troughton cites
how HPT wasn't able to pitch for Sony recently owing to its lack of
scale. Harrison draws a football analogy: 'We're the best five-a-side
team there is. This deal gives us the opportunity to play in a proper
Both men come from big agency backgrounds (Troughton was a former
managing director of Bates Communications and has done time at Ogilvy)
and the Impiric deal sees them return to what they escaped from three
years ago when they founded HPT. But they now see a key difference.
Troughton says: 'We turned our backs on a lack of control. It wasn't
that we were tired of big agency life, but that we wanted to have an
impact on our agency.' Impiric gives them that opportunity on a large
The pair have a big job on their hands, but seem to have the requisite
experience, charisma and respect of their peers to pull it off. The
feeling was exactly the same when Rainey, Kelly, Campbell and Roalfe
moved into Y&R, but with Ford, Eurostar and Campbell all having
subsequently taken their business elsewhere, the jury is still out on
how deep their impact has been.