Worldwide Partners Repackages Itself

Network of Independent Agencies Aims to Compete as a Global Holding Company

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SAN FRANCISCO ( -- Worldwide Partners, a network of some 90 independent shops hoping to capitalize on the trend among marketers to "open source" advertising services, is reformulating itself into a more aggressive holding company to compete for new business on the world stage.

"Marketers are recognizing there is a different way to do business" than committing to big holding company solutions, said Al Moffat, president-CEO, Worldwide Partners. He described Worldwide Partners as a "reverse Omnicom" -- the agencies own the holding company, and the holding company works for them.

Going after mid-sized fish
"As we get on the radar, we are going to pitch as Worldwide Partners and assemble the team working on the business from among our members," he said. "Our niche is companies that behave like middle-market clients," with budgets from $40 million to $200 million, he said, especially marketers who fear they will get lost in major holding companies and big agencies.

Under its current structure, member agencies can tap members in other markets for assignments. In one recent high-profile example, Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, partly owned by MDC Partners, in February won the Avon fragrance business, with billings estimated at $70 million. Although WPP remains Avon's agency for other aspects of its business, the marketer is allowing Kirshenbaum Bond to tap Worldwide Partners members to help with the global fragrance account.

"It's a game changer," said Jon Bond, co-chairman, Kirshenbaum Bond. Marketers that once demanded agencies staff offices around the globe but no longer want to pay "15% overhead to finance that office in Greece" can hire smaller shops now able to work globally.

Quick to adapt
One new Worldwide Partners member, Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners of Sausalito, Calif., agency for BMW of America's Mini Cooper, Epson, Priceline and Columbia Sportswear, recently joined the association after a few trials, attracted by the organization's ability to come up with "feet on the ground" partners in domestic and overseas markets for research, or to adapt or run ads for global campaigns from Butler Shine's clients, said CEO Greg Stern.

But Mr. Stern wasn't as certain that Worldwide Partners' strategy would work. "I don't know that clients are hiring networks, whether it's an independent network or a traditional holding-company network," Mr. Stern said. "I think they are hiring people they want to work with, with the skills they require, on an individual market basis."

Review consultant Russel Wohlwerth, principal, Ark Advisors, called Worldwide Partners a "great alternate for accounts lost in holding-company agencies" and "a fascinating alternative for marketers" at a time when many are looking at open sourcing models for agency relationships.

Clubby origins
Worldwide Partners was founded in 1938 by six Western U.S. agencies and called Affiliated Advertising Agencies Network, later 3AI. It became a shareholder corporation owned by its agency members in 2001. Initially, the agencies bonded together primarily to get discounts on research and other expenses, giving the organization a reputation as a "club," which offered mom-and-pop agencies an opportunity to attend annual meetings in exotic locales from Moscow to Costa Rica. Members, located in 44 nations, pay dues based on revenue.

Worldwide Partners plans to flex its muscles further. Already, the group has hired a new-business executive in Europe who has almost four dozen active prospects in Europe and Africa, Mr. Moffat said. Worldwide Partners' first major U.S. pitch earlier this year was for the Kohler Co. global media review, estimated at $40 million to $50 million in billings, handled by Select Resources International, where it made it to the second round, he said. Other new-business pitches are in the works, said Mr. Moffat.
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