NEW MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON McCANN ONLINE - McCann expands its Nescafe business by recruiting Groves

McCann has acquired 64k clients as well as its chief. Alasdair Reid investigates.

Matt Groves was surprisingly reluctant to talk to Campaign last week. There'd been some confusion about when the story of his move to McCann-Erickson was due to break and he had something of a turn when he opened the magazine and saw the story there at the top of page three.

Senior agency management were also less than keen to discuss the significance of Groves' appointment. Was it one they want to make the most of?

Er, yes, they think so. They'll get back to us on that one. McCann is hardly unique in its apparent lack of deftness when it comes to the digital world.

You suspect it's not so much the fact that ad agencies still don't really understand this whole online palaver (though it's true that some of them clearly struggle with the basics, even to this day), but that they've tried so many permutations and announced so many fresh approaches that there's a certain optimism fatigue associated with all of this.

For the record, Groves was the founder and chief executive of 64k, a new-media consultancy and creative agency that has implemented much admired work for the likes of Yoplait, Nestle and Bayer.

Now he has joined McCann-Erickson to create and head a new division called McCann Online, which will effectively be a digital creative resource for McCann's clients.

And in a rather neat (and economical) manoeuvre, the agency has acquired Groves' clients without actually buying his agency. 64k will continue as a production house but will not pitch for new clients in its own right.

The big question is how this affects McCann's other digital brands. The agency already has its own digital creative division, McCann-I, but this unit is semi-detached, living, as it does, in Manchester. Its highest profile client is Durex.

And then there's Universal McCann's digital media buying division, which handles the bulk of online media planning and buying (including e-mail and viral campaigns, plus all the usual banner and pop-up placement) for Universal clients.

Last but definitely not least there is of course Zentropy, which was originally resurrected out of the ashes of Lowe Digital and given independent branding and existence within the Interpublic Group. It is now housed under the McCann World Group umbrella.

It is unlikely that the agency's relationship with Zentropy - often distant at best - will change considerably following the appointment of Groves.

There will be friction if it does - and in any case McCann is hardly alone in having a less than integrated offering on the digital front.

Zentropy, which is touted as a worldwide network, is arguably the group's biggest digital property. But it may have its problems - observers point out that it lacks consistency. In each different market it is a repository of different groups of skill-sets, shotgun marriages of companies with diverse histories. Early on in the UK, for instance, it incorporated the digital elements of the Shandwick public relations operation.

It was launched as a full-service digital agency able to offer a smattering of consultancy services on top, and although that notion was severely shaken by the dotcom crash that's still the basic business model.

Plus, of course, it has its own client base. And in fact the suspicion in some McCann circles is that Zentropy has always tried to resist closer ties with the main agency.

The Zentropy fear has been that McCann will weaken it by demanding expertise on the cheap.

But that's arguably neither here nor there - because some sources at McCann point out that, for some of the difficult questions asked by clients, Zentropy isn't the answer.

Zentropy is quite production-based and technical - its expertise lies in organising client information and producing a website architecture that best presents this information. In the past, the marketing side has been a bit of a bolt-on, though it has created some much praised branding work, notably the Nesquik UK site. By and large, though, many of its clients are somewhat dry - technology and financial services companies, for instance.

64k is clearly higher up the Nestle pecking order. For instance, 64k was responsible for the new-media campaign that supported Nescafe's "hairy old Cortina" campaign, and it was also responsible for the £10 million ad campaign promoting the Nescafe brand relaunch and the new-look jar design. However, whether this will be translated into a key role at McCann will be another matter.

Cynical observers suggest that this is a move by the agency to increase its revenue over the short term and that McCann Online will struggle to offer the range of services offered by 64k.

Offering online as an extension of above-the-line activity may mean that Groves will miss the opportunity to create relationships and deliver return on investment for clients.

Perhaps Groves will be invited to build stronger links with Zentropy.

As things stand, that will probably mean treading on more than a few toes.

We shall see, obviously.

But as one insider puts it: "I don't think you need complicated organograms to make sense of this. Nescafe is desperate to get a younger market and someone, somewhere, reckons that the internet might be the way to achieve that. Tying in Groves ties in Nescafe."