Creston Drops U.S. Expansion Plans

Fear of Recession Put Brakes on Million-Dollar Operation

By Published on .

NEW YORK ( -- Fears of a U.S. recession have prompted London-based marketing services group Creston to drop plans for a stateside expansion less than a year after the idea was formulated.

In April 2007, Creston, the parent of London ad agency Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners, stated bullish plans to pursue U.S. acquisitions and brought on industry veteran Steve Blamer to lead the operation. Mr. Blamer had previously served as CEO of Foote Cone & Belding, but stepped down in 2006 after parent Interpublic Group of Cos. announced it would merge FCB with direct-marketing giant Draft.

Creston's expansion was necessary "because you cannot have a global marketing-services company and ignore the U.S.," Mr. Blamer told Advertising Age at the time. "We hope to make our first purchase here in the next 12 months."

$1.2 million loss
But by last fall, Creston said it would temporarily hold off on making any U.S. buys due to signs of a potential downturn in the American economy. Then, in a statement issued yesterday, the group said: "The global economic uncertainty and volatility has only increased ... and more so in the USA than in most other countries. Consequently, the board has decided to close its New York office and absorb the duties of building the Creston offering to American clients from within its London head office."

The shuttering of the office comes at a cost of $1.2 million, Creston said. It also means that Mr. Blamer -- whose key duty for Creston was to identify hot acquisition targets stateside in the digital marketing, market research and advertising and public relations arenas -- must relinquish his post as CEO of Creston, based in New York.

Mr. Blamer did not return calls seeking comment, but Don Elgie, CEO of Creston, said Mr. Blamer will stay on with the company for the nine-month duration of his notice period to help attract U.S. clients to Creston's U.K. companies.

Will remain 'committed' to U.S.
"It's very frustrating ... when we managed to attract Steve there was blue sky and no clouds," Mr. Elgie said in an interview. But anti-U.S. sentiment, economically speaking, forced the publicly traded company "to bow to investor sentiment," he said.

Creston does remain committed to the U.S. market long-term, though, Mr. Elgie said, and will "look at reentering when market sentiments improve."

Creston, which was launched in early 2001, has grown considerably since its 2005 purchase of DLKW, which was born out of True North Communications. It went on to acquire a host of U.K. based companies, including health-care PR agency Red Door Communications; market-research group ICM; direct-marketing agency Tullo Marshall Warren and its sibling company Colombus Communications; and health-care shop Pan Advertising. The group, which has over 800 employees, posted $135 million in revenue in 2006, according to Ad Age estimates.

Still, Creston says it has maintained a decidedly conservative acquisition strategy: Despite publicly declaring international aspirations in 2002, it has yet to announce an international buy.
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