IRELAND: FOR BETTER, FOR WORSE? - Paul O'Kane speaks to the latest ad agencies in Dublin to get hitched to the large networks

Does tying the knot with a big network mean tying your own agency

in knots? Not necessarily, according to Eddie O'Mahony, the chairman and

managing director of Owens DDB. O'Mahony believes that "the day of

beating the drum of being totally Irish-owned is over", following his

agency's partnership with DDB.

Many Dublin-based agencies now have a connection with one of the majors

and O'Mahony believes that hooking up with an international player makes

sense. "Things have moved so fast that you could be out in the

wilderness by doing that (staying on your own), particularly on the

media side," he says. "Every company will eventually be aligned to


Owens DDB, whose clients include Volkswagen, McDonald's, Esso, Carlsberg

and the Irish mobile phone operator Digifone, formed an initial

affiliation with DDB in 1988. What's more, four years ago, the agency

formerly known as Peter Owens struck a more formal association with DDB.

Following a management buyout at the Irish company two years ago, the

agency became Owens DDB, although its nine senior executives still

retain 100 per cent ownership of the business.

O'Mahony said the decision to take the DDB name even without an equity

deal showed his company's "commitment" to the relationship. "We were

putting down a marker that that is where we wanted to be." He expects

that over time, DDB will become a direct shareholder in the business.

"There is obviously a desire on the part of DDB to move towards an

equity position and we would look at that when the time was right."

Since so much business is won internationally these days, locking

yourself out of a window on that world restricts your growth, according

to O'Mahony.

As testament to this, Owens DDB recently won the Philips account in

Ireland after it was won internationally by the DDB network.

Through the link with a major, O'Mahony thinks his staff also improve

their chances of working on multinational brands or even seeing their

own Irish work on an international stage. Creative work written and

developed by Owens DDB in Ireland for clients such as VW and McDonald's

was used in several countries.

Meanwhile, Sean Whitaker, the director of planning at DDFH&B, says that

its relationship with J. Walter Thompson, which was cemented ten years

ago, has worked out well. JWT owns 27 per cent of the Irish agency, and

will shortly see its stake rise to 30 per cent. Yet Whitaker believes

that having local ownership is important: "It maintains an

entrepreneurial aspect. It's our business and you have a different

mindset when you own it."

About 45 per cent of DDFH&B's business comes from international clients

through JWT, while the other 55 per cent comes from local accounts.

DDFH&B, which has a client list that includes Baileys, Smirnoff, Kit

Kat, Rolo, Dunnes Stores, Persil and the Elida Faberge range, is treated

as a full member of the JWT team and is Baileys' lead agency.

"Our Baileys work is seen in 35 countries and we're the hub for the

Baileys account worldwide," Whitaker says. Teams in the US, Britain and

Spain, which are the three biggest markets for Baileys outside of

Ireland, all report to Whitaker, who oversees the account. For large

accounts such as Baileys, creative teams in the main market combine to

form a transnational "mini agency" working solely on the brand.

Although the business is becoming more international, Whitaker argues

that local offices "cannot merely be seen as a passive receiver of


Aside from "not being much fun for staff", such a route rarely makes

commercial sense. "Some brands are particularly important in particular


Baileys needs to be a success in Ireland, for example, and Ireland is a

hugely important market for Smirnoff, because it has such a large share

of the market," Whitaker says.

He believes Dublin is important for major agencies, which is often

beyond its market size. "When you're having a centralised pitch, who

wants to say we're in every European country except Ireland?"

One of the few big agency networks not to have an Irish presence is Lowe

Lintas, which is reportedly in talks to buy McConnells, Ireland's

largest independent agency. McConnells' managing director, Jarlath

Jennings, has so far neither confirmed nor denied the reports.

Speculation about a deal has been further fuelled by the arrival of the

Tesco account, which is held by Lowe in the UK. Despite some client

conflicts, senior industry figures consider it a done deal.

One agreement that has been inked recently is between QMP D'Arcy and

CDP, both of which are associated with Bcom3.

QMP's managing director, Conor Quinn, said that, under the deal, QMP

would be taking a majority stake in CDP. He added that while QMP has an

option to acquire the remainder of CDP, the two agencies would remain

separate and would continue to "compete against each other for


QMP's major clients include Mars, Fiat, Miller beer and the Irish

National Dairy Council, while CDP has a roster that includes the Irish

airports operator Aer Rianta, the state-owned power company ESB - which

is currently out to pitch - and Citroen.

The rationale for the deal was the relationship between their two

respective partners, according to Quinn.

"There's a certain sense to creating stronger structural links," he

adds. Bcom3 owns D'Arcy, which has a 17 per cent stake in QMP D'Arcy,

while the Japanese giant Dentsu, which has a 5 per cent stake in CDP,

owns 20 per cent of BCom3.

Under the arrangement Starcom MediaVest Group will become the umbrella

for both QMP's MediaVest Ireland operation and CDP's media business,

which is being renamed. "They will be linked but separate," Quinn


Most observers feel that the QMP/D'Arcy deal won't be the last and so,

for now, all ears are primed for wedding bells confirming the

Lowe/McConnells tie-up.


- McConnells (Ireland's biggest agency) and Lowe Lintas (Interpublic


What's their story? A family business which is still largely owned by

the McConnell family, McConnells will not confirm the £40 million

takeover, although talks started around May. As an announcement is

overdue, there is suspicion that talks have broken down because of

client conflict between Kellogg and Lowe's clients, Nestle and Weetabix,

as well as Eircom and Orange. Key clients Tesco, Unilever, AIB Bank,

Kellogg, Masterfoods, National Lottery, Eircom.

- Peter Owens and DDB (Omnicom)

What's their story? Following the death of the agency's founder, Peter

Owens, there was an MBO by five key executives and this was followed by

a sale/merger with DDB in 1999. Key clients Philips (since the merger),

Volkswagen, Esso, Carlsberg, McDonald's.

- DDFH&B and JWT (The WPP-owned network has owned a 27 per cent stake

since 1991)

What's their story? DDFH&B is the third-largest agency in Ireland. It

was founded by five executives out of another agency, Arrow. Only two

out of the original five have remained - Jim Donnelly, the managing

director, and Gerry Hanlon, the creative director. There is a strong

rumour that JWT is looking to take more equity and possibly more

control. Key clients Baileys, Nestle.

- QMP D'Arcy and CDP

What's their story? QMP was an Irish agency which merged with DMB&B

about ten years ago in a bit of a scandal. The current merger was

announced in May and has not been concluded formally because of client

conflict over Citroen (CDP) and Fiat (QMP). Key clients Mars, Fiat,

Procter & Gamble.

- Irish International and BBDO

What's their story? Ireland's second-biggest agency, Irish

International, was independently owned until 1998, when it was bought on

a three-year buyout which is soon to end. Key clients Aer Lingus, An

Post (post office).