Courage before tradition: Euro RSCG gets aggressive

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Some think age breeds wisdom, while others yearn to be forever young. Iain Ferguson, the new CEO of Havas Advertising's Euro RSCG Worldwide Marketing Services, believes the 2-year-old network's youth is a decided advantage.

Mr. Ferguson, 43, who has worked at Euro RSCG in the U.K. for its 10-year lifetime, was most recently CEO of the European region of the agency's marketing services network. He believes newness translates into greater flexibility for the agency.

"We have a more youthful and maybe a more spirited approach to the way we do business," said Mr. Ferguson, a Brit who's moving to New York to lead the marketing services group on a global basis. "We don't have 90 years of history trying to dictate our future."

But Daniel Morel, Mr. Ferguson's predecessor who left in January to take the helm of WPP Group-owned Young & Rubicam's Impiric Worldwide, sees Euro RSCG's infancy as a disadvantage. Mr. Morel took the chairman-CEO post at Impiric, an agency with a 43-year heritage under direct marketing pioneer Lester Wunderman, because he believes history is a valuable asset.

"My sense is that in the current economic environment, clients will favor people that have encountered many upturns in the market [and] many downturns-[agencies] that have faced many difficult situations and are able to decide what is usable, what is necessary, what is relevant and what is not," Mr. Morel said. "A young network with energy but lack of historical resource might have a tendency to embark on things ... and make the wrong bet."

Mr. Ferguson believes courageous agencies will win in tough economic times.

"The time for clients and for us, now, is probably the most fertile time we've ever experienced. There are no rules to say you shouldn't go there, and fortune will favor the brave and the inventive," he said.

Euro RSCG Worldwide's Chairman-CEO Bob Schmetterer set out three years ago to create a marketing services network that responds to marketers' current needs. "I'm very clear that clients today are looking for different things than they were five years ago, or 10 years ago," Mr. Schmetterer said. "The advantage of having built something for today is we don't have to say `we've got to stop being the way we were.' "

The challenge for Euro RSCG Marketing Services is to start being what it is, and that means integrating the disparate shops it has aggressively acquired. "This year, I think our focus will shift" away from gobbling up smaller shops, Mr. Ferguson said.

In 1999, when Euro's marketing services network was established, its parent made 31 acquisitions, 19 of which were direct and database oriented. In 2000, Mr. Ferguson said nearly all of Euro's purchases-about 19-were in the marketing services arena.

Major U.S. purchases included Devon Direct Marketing & Advertising, Berwyn, Pa. and Tyee Group, Portland, Ore.

"I think you'll see a lot of our focus in these coming months [be] on making sure that all of our partners that have joined us in the past are recognizable parts of our network," Mr. Ferguson said.

"There has been a tendency in some other networks to say, `how many [acquisitions] can we do?', whereas I'm more interested in how good can we do and how can we bring them into our family."

He plans to unite the network by articulating a common mission: helping marketers find innovative ways to connect with increasingly savvy consumers at multiple touch points.

"Making people part of a network is about showing them a direction and a vision and making it clear that we can deliver on that for them and their people and their clients," he said.

"Our group goal and vision talks about bringing creative business ideas to clients, ideas that go beyond marketing," he added. "I don't think it's been expressed in that way before."

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