EDITORIAL: Red Cell must stick to its raison d'etre

After months of protracted talks, the Red Cell network finally made its big-name signing when it completed the transfer of HHCL & Partners from the embattled Chime. Whether or not WPP's newest network has got the UK creative playmaker it so desperately desires is an open question. The modest fee reflects the fact the new arrival has been injury-prone and in poor form recently. Moreover, the signing will raise queries about whether HHCL can adapt to the tactics Red Cell is adopting. And are they the kind of tactics that are going to win matches?

So many questions. No easy answers. What's not in doubt is the driving ambition of Red Cell's evangelical chief executive, Lee Daley. Not for him a network that exists merely as a repository for referred business from its big sisters within WPP. Daley's vision extends well beyond such limited aims. His agenda involves turning Red Cell into an operation that will push at creative boundaries across the world while allying more closely with the entertainment industry - working with clients to develop programme content via the ownership of intellectual properties is also central to his plans.

It's a fascinating stall that Daley sets out and is especially relevant at a time when multinational advertisers are increasingly willing to defy convention and to hunt creative solutions, wherever they may be. However, a glance at Red Cell's brief but eventful history suggests Daley has a big credibility gap to jump to convince sceptical prospects it isn't making up its USP as it goes along.

Red Cell's routes go back to WPP's former Conquest network, set up by WPP with no raison d'etre other than to handle Alfa Romeo's pan-European account. Two years ago, it was lumped in with Singapore's Batey Advertising and Seattle's Cole & Weber. The idea that the enlarged network should concentrate on so-called "challenger" brands (ambitious but modest-spending advertisers eager to expand) always looked like an attempt to impose a rationale on a disparate alliance.

Daley now describes the positioning as "distinctive but limiting" and insists efforts should now be directed towards "restless leaders". Hardly surprising, perhaps, with $500 million of Coca-Cola business residing at Red Cell's New York outpost, Berlin Cameron.

Having defined what it stands for, the network must now stick with it, or Red Cell will be left open to the charge that it is cutting its cloth to suit the prevailing fashion.

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