When news of the on-off Sir Tim Bell/HHCL & Partners deal
resurfaced I was damning about both their cultural incompatibilities,
and the proposed deal’s failure to resolve Rupert Howell’s most pressing
problems: the international question and media buying relationships
(Campaign, 19 September).
I got calls from Bell and WPP’s Martin Sorrell afterwards, the former
chiding me gently for suggesting all he had to offer was money, and the
latter for thinking too small. ’You’re thinking too small again ,
Stefano,’ is - cruelly - what he actually said. And, as ever, he was
right. I stand by what I said about the Bell/HHCL culture clash.
However, the WPP dimension solves the media and international problems,
creates a mouth-watering new force in the business and explains Rupert
Howell’s eulogy to Sorrell at the Willott Kingston Smith seminar on the
battle for the bottom line last week.
Howell’s speech went some way to explaining why there isn’t a cultural
dissonance between HHCL and WPP. He told how Campaign itself had helped
perpetrate the image of ’odious little jerk’ Sorrell, who had dared to
buy the revered David Ogilvy’s agency against the latter’s wishes, and
who’d had the audacity to acquire J. Walter Thompson, the ultimate
agency, when he didn’t know an ad from a spreadsheet. Howell then
reminded his audience that we had seen the light, and now respected
Sorrell as the man who brought a dose of business reality to an industry
that had disappeared up its own backside.
As we’ve said before, Sorrell should be viewed as one of the few
iconoclasts working in the global advertising world. Because London’s so
tied up in knots, confusing creativity with executional excellence, it’s
easy for the Soho set to dismiss Sorrell’s ’creative work’ (by which I
don’t mean JWT and O&M’s output) in favour of the likes of HHCL’s. But
as we’ve seen with HHCL, and others before it, there are limits to how
far you can grow and remain iconoclastic. You need the right clients.
HHCL never had a problem winning those clients, but, over the years, it
has lost too many.
Recently they’ve gone for reasons that are best explained by a perceived
need for international affiliations. Association with WPP makes that
Perhaps, as with Simons Palmer and Sony Playstation, WPP’s O&M or JWT
will take HHCL’s work and run it across Europe? Perhaps MindShare will
buy that media?
Why not? There are many alliances today, from Microsoft and Apple to
Carlton and Granada, that appeared inconceivable just five years
As Christine Walker says elsewhere this week, it’s not just about owning
the world today. Like-minded partnership is the new world order. The
challenge is to expand our understanding of who is like-minded.