Agencies: With its new leaders, Red Cell eyes growth

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WPP Group's year-old Red Cell just got a much-needed blood transfusion. Group Chief Executive Martin Sorrell hopes the purchase of Berlin Cameron & Partners and the addition of U.S. clients such as Coca-Cola Co. will finally bring success to his attempt to create an unprecedented fourth network for an agency holding company.

WPP in December acquired Berlin Cameron, a New York agency with billings of $265 million. Co-founded in 1997 by Andy Berlin and Ewen Cameron, the 80-person shop is known both for its work-advertising, brand strategy and planning-as well as for the colorful, controversial Mr. Berlin.

"Andy," said an ex-employee, "is not for everyone." Jeff Goodby, co-chairman of Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, a shop Mr. Berlin helped start, said: "Andy has an incredible amount of energy. It will be interesting to see it unleashed on that wide a scale."

If Red Cell finally succeeds, it would be a personal victory for Mr. Sorrell. Red Cell evolved out of Conquest, a European network he set up in 1982 to handle Fiat Group's Alfa Romeo business. A year ago, he combined Conquest with WPP shops in Asia and the U.S.-Batey Ads, Singapore, and Cole & Weber, Seattle-to form Red Cell.

Discounting Berlin Cameron's billings, the network's billings were about $1 billion, but it lost several accounts in its first year and won little new business. Now that CEO Luca Lindner is defecting to Bcom3 Group's D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles as CEO of Europe Middle East and Africa, concerns rose that Red Cell's biggest client, Alfa Romeo, would follow him to D'Arcy, another Fiat agency.

Lee Daley, Red Cell's co-CEO and chief strategy officer, dismissed speculation, saying the car marketer "is content with Red Cell" and that its Turin, Italy office, which handles the account, will get more investment. A Fiat spokesman declined comment.

Red Cell's strategy is to serve clients that have global brands but don't need a network with offices everywhere. But competition for that space is intense. Publicis Groupe's Fallon Worldwide is opening in Singapore, Hong Kong and Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 2002 as part of an expansion strategy begun in 1999 with the opening of a hot creative shop in London. Havas Advertising's Arnold Worldwide Partners has moved into Europe via its 2000 integration with Havas' second European network, Campus, and an agency in Sao Paulo. Two others are Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., and Bcom3-backed Bartle Bogle Hegarty, London.

WPP's purchase of Berlin Cameron for an unannounced price positions the agency as Red Cell's U.S. beachhead, an attractive incentive for both Mr. Berlin, 51, and Mr. Cameron, 37, to seal the deal.

Both men assume leadership responsibilities: Mr. Cameron oversees the agency's U.S. operations, excluding Cole & Weber. Mr. Berlin is Red Cell's co-CEO and chief creative officer. He shares network leadership with 38-year-old Mr. Daley.

Mr. Daley, an 11-year veteran of Interpublic Group of Cos., spent four years at Amster Yard, an offshoot of McCann-Erickson Worldwide. Most recently, he was exec VP-chief strategy officer for Europe, Middle East and Africa at McCann, working with such clients as Nestle, Interbrew and General Motors Europe. "Lee is a strategist," said Jeff Weiss, Amster Yard founder , who worked with Mr. Daley in the mid- 1990s. "But he is as creative as any creative person I've ever known in my life."

In concept, Red Cell has its admirers. "Many big international clients no longer need agencies with local offices in every country," said Michael Farmer, a former management consultant at Bain & Co., who's worked with WPP's Ogilvy & Mather and Grey Global Group's Grey Worldwide. "Many have centralized all brand decision-making in one locale. What [marketers need] is people who understand a culture and develop global campaigns."

In addition to its existing locations, the network plans to expand, via acquisitions or hiring key executives, into key locales such as London.

The test for management, notes Abe Jones, managing director of AdMedia Partners, is to create a clear identity for Red Cell. "It's got to be a network, not a collection of offices."

big hole

The biggest hole is London, where Red Cell has virtually dismantled its lackluster office in order to buy or build a more creative shop. Red Cell was already rebuffed by several U.K. shops, according to one London-based executive. Red Cell is said to be particularly interested in hot agency, Mother, but Robert Saville, one of its founders, said, "It's not going to happen. We're not selling to anyone. We've had no discussions [with WPP]." One regret expressed by the departing Mr. Lindner is his work to establish a London office was not finished. "We cannot afford to not be in London," Mr. Daley said.

Even with good office locales and talent, creating a working culture among a far-flung network of agencies is a big challenge. A top priority, Mr. Cameron said, is to get employees energized with new-business wins. "Five or six clients in the New York agency have potential to help us grow internationally," he said, like Coca-Cola and Nestle Purina PetCare Co. Berlin Cameron also handles Advertising Age's account.

While Mr. Cameron concentrates on coaxing more business from current clients, the co-CEOs are stopping at all Red Cell shops to introduce themselves, discuss their plans, and learn about each office's work and clients. "A common culture is about standards. They've got to be high enough, and truly shared," Mr. Berlin said. "Know us by the company we keep."

contributing: alice z. cuneo

Fast Facts

Company: Red Cell, London

Parent: WPP Group

Co-CEOs: Andy Berlin, chief creative officer; Lee Daley, chief strategy officer

Key clients: Fiat's Alfa Romeo, Ermenegildo Zegna, Coca-Cola Co., Reebok International

Billings: $1.26 billion

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