Unity's termination won't be subject of Arnie's next movie

They're back, Chris and Arnie, Ingram and Schwarzenegger. One fighting those pesky cyborg killing-machines (for the third time); the other fighting the marketing services establishment (for the second time), writes Claire Beale.

And while Terminator Arnie’s show is subtitled The Rise of the Machines, Determinator Chris Ingram’s squaring up to the mighty marketing services super-groups could easily carry the same tagline.

True, Terminator 3 is described in the PR blurb as "melding riveting suspense"; The Ingram Partnership is unlikely to be quite so exciting. Still, Ingram’s purchase of Unity, the strategic communications company, was a smear of icing on the PR cake when TIP was unveiled this week. Ingram’s snapped up Unity (for how much we don’t know, but the former Unity partner Derek Morris is probably very interested to find out).

The disappearance of Unity from the media agency scene perhaps won’t overly trouble either competitors or peers. The company was neither such a scorching success that rivals will be relieved, nor a danger zone that threw into question the very viability of the strategic media sector itself.

Lacking an energetic front man and without the headline-hungry zeal of the get-rich-quick entrepreneur, Unity has shuffled along in the shadows. Its remaining partners, Andy Tilley and Ivan Pollard, command enormous respect; but there seem to have been relatively few new client friends made along the Unity way.

Pollard — modest, delicate, blindingly bright and delightfully odd — and Tilley — brasher and more brazen, though sometimes more, erm, languid and whingy — seemed in need of a rocket up their collective arses for quite some time. They were wooed by J. Walter Thompson earlier this year, but JWT has hardly the spark to get its own proposition soaring. And besides, how can you claim to offer the best (the right) strategic advice if your whole reason for being is about making commercials?

So Unity’s transmogrification is a warning sign of a sort for any agency eyeing their territory: strategic communications brains continue to thrive, but will surely find it increasingly hard to do so alone. The media background of a Unity (or a Naked, or a Michaelides & Bednash) is the best starting point for strategic advice. But it must be under-pinned by a grown-up view of business issues and allied to a range of skills and experience well beyond traditional media or the PR-sexy media stunt.

How to achieve all of this while still having the independence that is vital to unbiased advice is the conundrum. Fortunately, in Ingram, Unity has found someone with the financial resource, connections and experience to furnish the broad communications partnerships that many clients are looking for. Without all of that, the shadowy Unity may not have survived for much longer.

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