WCRS has always refused to be pigeonholed. The agency proved its
non-conformist credentials in 1983 when it made its intrepid debut on
the Unlisted Securities Market and set itself on a course which
eventually led to a takeover by the French group, Eurocom, in 1990.
By 1991, the demise of WCRS as a standalone brand was being widely
As a senior manager at the time remembers: ’The French wanted an agency
called Euro WCRSCG.’ It made sense for Eurocom - which had just merged
with RSCG - to consolidate its five London shops in one single
At the time, WCRS was the network’s flagship London shop, but it was
only number 12 in the agency league and Euro was used to being number
This shaky beginning was probably the most fraught time in the history
of the relationship between WCRS and the French. As one insider
remembers: ’The French had a problem with WCRS. They thought we were
hugely arrogant because we fought to stay independent. It seemed like
they would never forgive us but they couldn’t risk pissing off the
management by forcing a merger.’
Alain de Pouzilhac, the chairman and chief executive of Havas
Advertising, has a slightly different recollection of the era: ’WCRS was
not in such a good position then. Of course we were not going to be
popular when we changed the management, but when we were upset we were
always able to talk about it.’
In the end the WCRS brand was strong enough to survive unscathed.
Looking back, Robin Wight can appreciate the generosity of the French
parent: ’If we had been owned by Americans they would have thought they
know better than us. There are few areas in which the French concede the
Anglo-Saxons are better, but they do recognise our historic strength in
After the Eurocom takeover, WCRS found itself with a rare second chance
and quickly capitalised on it. Having spent most of the 80s trying to
conquer the world and build a network from scratch, the agency had
overstretched itself and lost its way.
The WCRS empire was separated and the headquarters of the Eurocom/WCRS
Group advertising agency network, EWDB (Eurocom WCRS Della Femina Ball),
was moved from London to Paris. Once again, WCRS was a straightforward
London advertising agency, although this time it had the security of a
Once WCRS had established a satisfactory independence, it could
concentrate on its own development. The French managed the world stage,
leaving WCRS to concentrate on strengthening its position with some
top-level hirings and a rash of new business. The BMW relationship was
solid and the agency won the regional electricity privatisation
The French owners took a step back. As long as WCRS was delivering
healthy profits, there was no need to interfere. But, as one of the
agency’s former executives says: ’Euro doesn’t like not being the
biggest. There was always a sword of Damocles hanging over the agency -
if ever it faltered, a merger with Euro RSCG was always a
But WCRS threw off this threat by going from strength to strength. By
1994 it had re-established its creative reputation and had hired Larry
Barker and Rooney Carruthers from Bartle Bogle Hegarty to beef up the
’Most people who work here would probably be surprised to find out that
we don’t own ourselves,’ Wight says. ’We have always been allowed our
independence because we make money and do good advertising.’
In 1996, Euro RSCG signalled its faith in WCRS by appointing Wight as
chairman of its new second network, Campus. Campus was launched by
Thomas Rempen, chairman and chief executive of an eponymously named
(non-Euro RSCG) German shop, with a big fanfare and lots of jargon. It
was ’a worknet, not a network’ with a ’mission to add value without
And then it all went rather quiet. There seemed to be no immediate
prospect of any international clients and the network was no more than a
loose arrangement of WCRS, Rempen and three other European agencies -
France’s Australie, Ata-Tonic in Milan and Ruiz Nicoli in Madrid.
Campus was left to languish while Euro RSCG concentrated on its own
There was the creation of a parent company for the two networks, Havas
Advertising, and its holding company, Havas, which was in turn acquired
by the French utilities giant, Compagnie Generale des Eaux (now
Vivendi), in 1998.
This year, though, the focus is back on Campus, on revitalising and
expanding the concept rather than just purchasing another network
wholesale. de Pouzilhac says he and Jean Pierre Audour, the
vice-president of Havas responsible for Campus, are working on ’a big
new adventure’. They want to create a second-string network with ’a
strong character and creative spirit’ which will be ’compact’, made up
of agencies from no more than 12 countries.
For many WCRS clients, the French connection is completely in the
Hans Snook, the group managing director of Hutchison Telecom, says: ’I
don’t think about whether or not I’m working with a French agency. I
don’t think of WCRS as anything other than a good agency.’ Peter
Kinnaird, the managing director of another client, Land Rover, agrees:
’I have no feeling of working with a French agency. The shareholders are
in the background.’
It is exactly clients like Orange and Land Rover that de Pouzilhac hopes
to attract into the new-look Campus. He has cast WCRS as one of the
leaders of the new network drive and praises the agency for its
’vitality’ and recent speed of growth.
But de Pouzilhac still wants more. His immediate ambition for WCRS is to
see it listed among the top five creative agencies in the UK. ’I hope it
is possible to reach that goal,’ he says, and with rare French humility,
adds: ’British advertising is the best in the world.’
THE HISTORY OF THE FRENCH EVOLUTION
1979 WCRS founded.
1983 WCRS makes its debut on the Unlisted Securities Market.
1984 WCRS advances to a full Stock Exchange listing and uses the cash
raised on acquisitions. It buys the public relations company, Biss
Lancaster, then the US agency, Della Femina, then FCO, the Ball
Partnership and Alan Pascoe Associates.
1987 WCRS takes a 49 per cent stake in the French PR company, Belier,
and in return, Belier’s parent, Eurocom, takes a 20 per cent stake in
WCRS Group plc.
1989 Eurocom ups its stake in WCRS’s agency business from 20 to 60 per
cent and a new agency network is created - Eurocom WCRS Della Femina
1990 Eurocom groups EWDB with HDM to form Eurocom Advertising following
the deal to take 100 per cent of HDM Europe (bought from Dentsu and
Young & Rubicam). In the UK, Eurocom Advertising now has a stake in FCO,
WCRS and HDM Horner Collis and Kirvan. The new group has billings of
dollars 3.4 billion.
1991 Eurocom merges with RSCG.
1992 All the Euro RSCG London shops merge to form Euro RSCG Madell
Wilmot, except WCRS, which remains autonomous.
1996 The launch of Campus - a loose arrangement of five European
agencies - with Robin Wight as chairman and Thomas Rempen as chief
executive. Euro RSCG Worldwide regroups as four divisions under a new
holding company, Havas Advertising: Campus, Euro RSCG, Mediapolis,
1999 Havas announces a relaunch of Campus and buys a majority stake in
the German ad agency, Rempen & Partner, one of the Campus partners.