Editorial: FCB cultural inertia has held back growth in UK

Cultural change doesn't come easily to FCB. Not only has Jonathan Rigby abruptly departed as the managing director of its London office, but he is taking the intellectual property rights to the agency's Sandpit concept with him.

The alliance of independent communication specialists brought together under one roof at FCB was very much Rigby's brainchild, but one that was at odds with the network's positioning. Then there were doubts about whether such a collaboration would work without FCB having direct control of the disparate parts.

In another environment, Rigby might have succeeded. In FCB, Sandpit was a transplant the agency was always likely to reject. Odds are that after casting Sandpit out, FCB will revert to type. Everything in its recent history, a litany of unwise acquisitions in which critical mass was bought at the price of cultural dilution, suggests this will be the case. And there seems little prospect the London outpost will not remain the enfeebled operation it has been since the loss of the British Airways account 23 years ago.

In the fast-moving world of global communications, FCB often appears lumbering and inflexible. Indeed, it may be no accident its global alliance with Publicis, which takes a multicultural approach to international expansion, should have blown apart. By contrast, FCB remains a product of its origins, when its world revolved around its Chicago HQ and a paucity of truly global clients made it a latecomer to the international stage with a lot of ground to make up.

The fact it has never really managed to do so is blamed by some on the generous salaries paid to FCB senior executives in the US, which have made them reluctant to take foreign postings. Others say it is more to do with a US colonial attitude, which suffocates foreign acquisitions rather than allowing them to breathe.

It all adds up to an unenviable problem for Steve Blamer, FCB's incoming worldwide chief executive. The London agency's failure to recreate its golden age of the late 70s suggests this is now impossible. Providing good service for FCB's multinational clients while hijacking a domestic account or two may be a more attainable, if less sexy, option.