MEDIA HEADLINER: Can WPP's Nylon live up to its brave new world aspirations?

If Nylon's real difference is structural, will clients really benefit, Alasdair Reid asks.

Nylon: New York plus London; NY + Lon. You can tell you're in strategic communications planning territory when a new agency gives itself a high-concept sort of moniker and then tries to flog all sorts of dubious analogies on the back of it. In this case, the main one is geographical. The Du Pont team looking for a breakthrough in synthetic fibres back in the late 30s was drawn from both sides of the Atlantic, so Nylon, the agency launched last week, will eventually set up a second office in New York.

The principals in this new venture (the founding partners Tony Regan, Pru Parkinson and Martin Thomas) would also like to invoke all sorts of Nylon-based analogies - mainly in a brave-new-world, pioneering-science vein. But we'll draw a veil (a crinkly, rather static-filled veil at that) over those. They're perhaps offering too many hostages to fortune here - once you start playing word-association games, you never really know where you're going to end up. Does Brentford Nylons still exist, for instance?

That's what communications planning specialists do though, isn't it?

It's as if they're gagging to be dragged into Pseuds' Corner. But that's the cutting edge of creativity for you - in seemingly braving the threat of mockery they source their creative credentials. Paradoxically, perhaps, they (the likes of Naked, The Source, Rise) all have this one thing in common - they claim they are a fundamental departure, offering a unique service. Or philosophy. Or whatever. In this respect, Nylon is no different.

In Nylon's case, the difference is structural. It will be a 50/50 joint venture between two WPP divisions: Young & Rubicam Brands and Mediaedge:cia.

Regan, who has plenty of credentials in this area, having been a founding member of Michaelides & Bednash before moving to PHD as joint managing director, says that this structure will guarantee that the new unit will be well resourced.

He says: "It reflects the foundations of knowledge and experience found in its existing agency disciplines. You can start up without that behind you and be totally dependent merely on the skills and knowledge of the founders, but this approach allows us to be totally multidisciplinary. The equity arrangement is a way of guaranteeing solidity and making sure that everyone concerned realises this is a serious play with real substance and real purpose. It formalises arrangements between disciplines within one agency family."

Nylon is very clearly positioning itself as an "upstream" resource - one that will be called in to set the strategic parameters of a brand positioning or a campaign, setting the fundamental concepts from which subsequent creative executions and media channel choice can be derived.

It is not intended to be a bolt-on media planning unit called on to add some peppy cleverness after the creative ideas have been decided. And although in the first instance it will probably work for existing WPP clients, the intention is to chase third-party accounts too. Will third-party clients be given access to the same range of talents and proprietary tools as WPP clients will?

Absolutely, Regan says: "Those tools are central to what we will be doing so, obviously, they will tap into that. Our approach will always be collaborative." Regan says Nylon is a response to unsatisfied client needs and reflects frustrations with the way the market has been evolving along single-discipline lines. "We need to re-unify the data-rich skills of media with the creative impetus," he says. "It's about how to get brands woven into the cultural space, the day-to-day experience of people."

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the rest of the industry remains sceptical as to whether this is a truly new departure. The joint ownership notion, for instance, is hardly new. In the new wave of media specialists that came along a decade ago, it was common to find creative agencies taking a stake. And anyway, there's surely no need for equity to be involved when this is all taking place within one holding company, some argue.

So, basically, rival groups are perhaps not going to be looking enviously at this new development. "I think some groups are recognising that they've become excessively unbundled and are looking for ways to put it all back together again. But I think there will be many ways of doing it," Nick Manning, the chief executive of Manning Gottlieb OMD, says.

Tony Manwaring, the communications planning director at Initiative, agrees.

"Everyone has been looking at how you meet the challenges of the environment we work in," he says. "But I'm not sure the answer lies in structure. It should be about doing something organically and not being too obsessed about where people sit."

But Mark Cranmer, the chief executive, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Starcom MediaVest Group, says we should welcome any development that reminds the world at large that media specialists are bright people. But, he says, much of what's happening these days is confusing. "The industry is going through a period of consolidation at a time when there's very little natural growth," he explains.

"That's why the market has been struggling to define the parameters of service provisions. What is the boundary between an ad agency and a media agency these days? But this industry is populated by bright people and the more good ideas there are around the better. Anything that persuades clients to think of us as something beyond a commodity has to be welcomed."