The benefits of having a network appear to stem less from using it to
get on to pitch-lists than being able to respond to a client’s need
for regional representation, David Reed says
When is a network not a network? The question springs to mind when
considering the fate of CDP Europe. Last year’s table topper, there is
no sign of it in 1996, even though the individual agencies involved
still appear to be operating. What seems to have disappeared is any co-
ordination of them at a regional level - the last chairman of CDP Europe
is reported to have returned to Japan, while enquiries about its current
status were met with a response best described as thin-lipped.
This has allowed Worldwide Partners Inc (formerly Affiliated Advertising
Agencies International, or 3AI) to slip into the top spot with billings
up dollars 30 million to dollars 464 million. The ‘rebranding exercise’,
as Tim Coton, director of business development at Arc Advertising, puts
it, reflects a new-found vision of what makes independent agency
networks matter to clients. ‘We market ourselves less as a network than
as individual European agencies using a network,’ he says.
The importance of strong agencies coming together out of mutual interest
is a key distinction between these networks and the business-driven
multinationals. However, it does often lead to networks where two or
three major players dominate a handful of smaller concerns (Alto is the
exception to this rule).
Coton believes that the benefits of having a network stem less from
using it to get on pitch-lists than from being able to respond to client
demands for regional representation if they arise. ‘If a European
opportunity comes up, we are in a position to pitch for it
intelligently, not scratching our heads and doing deals like M&C Saatchi
with Publicis,’ he says. ‘I don’t think being in Europe per se has a
It is a point of view that Patrick Walhain, regional director of IFAA
Europe and associate director of the Dassas Group, would no doubt agree
with. His network has just won the British Airways mileage programme
account in central Europe in a pitch against M&C Saatchi/Publicis. A
decision on the Nordic account, pitched against the same competitor, is
Central Europe will be led from Switzerland and will run across Austria,
Russia and Hungary. ‘We would not have been on that pitch-list without
our agencies in those countries,’ Walhain says. IFAA has also just
picked up the dollars 8 million Case construction equipment account in a
pitch against WPP’s third-string network, Conquest. With press work due
to break in the UK, Germany and France, this was an example of getting
an introduction to a pan-European account from another agency in the
network, in this case, IFAA’s American shop.
Walhain points out that independent networks do not just wait for good
local agencies to become established before signing them up, sometimes
they can help to develop talent as well. ‘In Hungary, I was in contact
with Mahir, which was quite a big, state-owned advertising agency. It
did a lot of things like exhibitions and poster contracting, but little
advertising. There was one very clever woman there who said she may
decide to leave and form her own agency. I said we would be involved,’
The Hungarian agency is 25 per cent owned by Dassas and has picked up
the Ikea account in the country. If similar opportunities were to arise
in the Czech Republic and Poland, Walhain says BA is ready to follow the
network into those territories.
Completing coverage of even the major European countries takes time, as
John Oldfield, managing director of the Charles Walls Group and
administrator of Integra, can confirm. Formed just over a year ago
around a US, UK and Swiss trio which broke away from the Map
International network, Integra has just completed a partnership deal
with Gellier and Associates in France and is still looking for a Spanish
agency. With most of the major European countries in place, the network
will begin to promote itself properly in October.
Oldfield says that the reason for Integra’s careful start has been the
selection process it follows when choosing partner agencies. ‘There is a
list of criteria they have to pass: financial stability, two or three
years’ accounts, the resources available, technology employed, their
ability to run an ad campaign, and ancillary services,’ he says.
Not surprisingly, there are few independent agencies meeting these
criteria that are not already part of a network, and even some of those
that aren’t do not want to go through the process. ‘In Italy, we had
seven listed, visited three and chose one. In France, we reviewed 15 to
20 agencies, offered it to two, who both turned us down,’ Oldfield says.
Expanding the network is not a priority for all of those in the table.
Leslie Butterfield, chairman and managing director of Butterfield Day
Devito Hockney and president of Elan, says: ‘We have always tried to
stick to the six countries we started with, because those are the key
markets in Europe. Nothing, as yet, has been important enough for us
Elan has spent most of the last year working on its major pan-European
through-the-line account win, Kimberly-Clark. Through its German agency,
Buhler Flettner and Partner, it has also picked up Kurver household
goods in three countries, while the UK agency also supported Buhler
Flettner on a pitch to Clerical Medical. Butterfield says that, even if
opportunities were to arise in eastern or central Europe, ‘the
administrative agreement doesn’t allow members from non-EU countries’.
This raises an interesting distinction between the independent agency
networks. Half of them are founded on European Economic Interest Group
frameworks, which establish a holding company with a common marketing
fund. This does limit their coverage to the 15 countries within the EU,
preventing them from taking advantage of other growing markets. But
Oldfield believes that, ‘there is a lot to do in western Europe,’ and
that many of the opportunities in the East are over-stated.
Even longer-established networks have spent the last year keeping their
coverage in place, just as pan-European business has started to become
more evident. International Network had to replace its partner in France
following the purchase by Publicis of Hautefeuille Collette. ‘Les
Ateliers ABC is a very powerful independent agency which we are
delighted has joined - it is a very positive boost,’ Grahame Senior,
chief executive of Senior King and president of IN, says. ‘We have also
taken on an agency in Austria, Reichl and Partner, which is very
strong.’ Senior notes that this gives IN a good connection to eastern
Europe, since Linz and Vienna are both gateway cities, although he is
keen to sign up an agency in Turkey.
Not every network has been active over the last year. Hugh Burkitt,
chairman of Burkitt Edwards Martin and the Alto network, describes the
year for Alto simply as ‘quiet’. Independent Creative Partners reports
that while the network did not pitch for any business as a whole, it has
operated well in providing access to market information to its members.
Some of these have experienced tremendous domestic growth, especially
Jung von Matt and Jean and Montmarin.
The complexities of the EEIG structure mean there is often a two-year
gap between inception of a network and its coming to fruition. But what
is apparent is that the rationale for mutual interest groups of
independent agencies is coming to the fore.
Instead of seeing Europe as a theoretical opportunity, the accounts are
there to be won.
Media Rises up the Agenda
If interest in developing independent agency networks reached its peak
in 1992, the focus of attention for the past few years has been on
regional media networks. The impact of the Media Network, MediaCom or
Mediapolis has been to put pressure on small agencies’ ability to
deliver full-service cross-border campaigns.
One solution is simply to align with one of the independent media
groups, such as Carat or CIA Medianetwork. However, a number of network
heads suggest this removes the very flexibility that is a key selling
point of their set-up. There may also be a mismatch between the
strengths of the agency and media network in each country.
John Oldfield, administrator of Integra, says pan-European media can be
handled very well out of London alone: ‘In the UK, the situation is
unique - there are more international media houses here than anywhere
else in Europe.’
Integra has handled media for SCM Chemical across Europe in this way,
even though its advertising runs in trade and technical press, which is
less globalised than consumer.
But despite the rise of the media specialist there, Grahame Senior,
president of IN, does not believe their buying is any more efficient
than an independent agency’s.
‘When we look at doing a Europe-wide campaign, for example, for a US
state, and we look at the costs we can achieve through buying country
by-country, we can get a better position,’ he says.
In the absence of a parallel media network, agencies may have no other
choice than to work out solutions for clients individually. According to
Patrick Walhain, regional director of IFAA Europe, the differing nature
of media in each country may make media centralisation a vain hope: ‘A
few years ago, we tried to put together the resources we were using
locally to provide a global service. Now, on each project, we have one
agency as the leader and its media people manage all the others in the