The World: Blamer's 'the one to make it happen' for Creston

Chief executive Don Elgie feels he has the right man to crack the US market, as the company bids to go global.

The irony isn't lost on Steve Blamer. He has just become the US "ambassador" for a UK group he had not only never heard of until a few months ago, but one eager to present itself as the antidote to the shortcomings of the global networks where he has spent the bulk of his career.

His Manhattan office, containing just a desk, a phone and his PA, represents Creston's solitary presence in the US at the moment. But Blamer and his new employer are determined to provide some bulk via a concerted acquisition programme.

In the six years of its life, Creston has successfully pioneered the "mini holding company" concept in Britain. Its 900 staff, spread across ten operating companies, drove up revenues by 49 per cent last year. The group has accumulated an impressive stable of thoroughbreds, including Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners and Tullo Marshall Warren, to feed this growth.

But Creston's chief executive, Don Elgie, a former European operations director at Saatchi & Saatchi, is aware that a credible presence within the world's largest economy is essential if the group's global ambitions are to be realised.

That's where Blamer comes in. Had fate dealt him a different hand, he might now be heading Grey Global Group, headquartered a block away from where he now works. He was even being tipped as the heir apparent to Michael Roth at Interpublic. As it happened, Blamer grew weary of waiting to fill Ed Meyer's shoes at Grey. And his subsequent appointment as FCB's global chief ended when its IPG parent merged it with Draft, leaving him without what he regarded a real job. Disenchanted with corporate life, he'd considered withdrawing to his Santa Fe ranch and indulging his passion for photography.

Nevertheless, he remains a well-known figure on and around Madison Avenue. "Steve has enormous credibility in the US," Elgie says. "He can open doors for us. He will be the one to make it happen."

Of course, Blamer's appointment begs some questions. Can he cope with such a big change of mindset? And will US acquisition prospects take him seriously? Blamer, about to begin working his way through a fat file of possible acquisition targets compiled by Elgie, has no doubts. Who better to point out the structural flaws of the supergroups than somebody who has worked within them for so long, he asks. What's more, he claims, Creston's achievements in the UK make an impressive calling card.

The reason Creston wants to crack the US market is that it has reached a stage in its evolution when it can't afford not to if it is to achieve Elgie's declared aim of becoming a broadly based micro network mirroring Creston's UK set-up, which draws just 23 per cent of its profits from advertising.

Even now, the bulk of the group's top 30 clients are international players headquartered in New York. "We must have the opportunity to better service that business," Elgie says. "If you have international aspirations and you're not in the US, you're nowhere."

Moreover, Elgie and Blamer feel the time for making Creston's presence felt in the US is propitious, and expect to be making their first US purchases, possibly "sister" operations for DLKW and TMW, within the next year. "People forget that the US economy is still growing," Elgie adds. "It's also worth remembering Creston launched in a downturn. That's an advantage, because it keeps you focused and helps convince people we're here to stay."

Other factors may also work to Creston's advantage. One is what Elgie claims is a dearth of other holding groups looking to acquire in the US as they focus on Asia. "All our feedback suggests we'll be pushing at an open door," he says.

The other is what Blamer calls a period of huge change currently talking place within the US communications industry. "There are a lot of entrepreneurs who have grown their companies to a point where they need to be able to service their international clients without selling their souls," he adds.

In convincing such companies that they would not be entering some Faustian pact by signing up, Creston plans to emphasise its inclusive culture, its opposition to all-cash deals, and its commitment to ensuring that sellers remain on board and committed.

The big question is whether Creston will ever be able to match its rhetoric about supergroups that put their interests before those of their clients and challenge them for global business. Elgie insists it will. The group's US move is the first stage of what he says is the establishment of a global footprint embracing France, Germany and Spain, as well as an Asian "hub" operation, probably out of Singapore.

He doesn't share the prevailing gung-ho approach to China, comparing it to "the Klondike Gold Rush, where the only people making money were those supplying the picks and shovels. We don't say never, but we are cautious."

Meanwhile, Blamer will be thumbing his address book and hitting the phone.