Rebranded United, New Management Brought in to Run London Office

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A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.

LONDON (AdAge.com) -- Martin Sorrell isn’t giving up on WPP Group’s struggling fifth network, now being reinvented as a micronetwork called United with a beefed-up London office that will be under new leadership and wholly owned by WPP.

WPP will buy Chime’s 51% stake in HHCL United for $4.7 million and rename the agency Voluntarily United Group of Creative Agencies, or simply United.

WPP will buy the remaining 51% stake in London shop HHCL from U.K. PR agency Chime Communications, and bring in Jim Kelly and Robert Campbell, whose own U.K. startup, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe, merged with WPP’s Young & Rubicam in 1999, to run United's London office.

In the hunt
“This makes us more attractive as a micronetwork,” said Andy Berlin, chairman of United's U.S. agency, Berlin Cameron, and global CEO of the whole network. “You have got to have a strong New York and London presence in order to be an international player. This puts us more into the hunt. We are a legitimate competitor with BBH [ Bartle Bogle Hegarty], Mother and Fallon, but we are not patterned after them.”

That’s a little optimistic. The U.K. has always been a problem for a network that never really took off. It began when Mr. Sorrell put together a fledgling Milan-based network called Conquest Europe in the 1980s, mainly to handle Fiat’s Alfa Romeo account without posing a conflict to the Ford Motor Co. business at other WPP agency networks.

Forming Red Cell
In 2001, WPP combined Conquest Europe and several other agencies to form a single new international network called Red Cell, to be run by Conquest’s CEO, Luca Lindner. The other agencies included Seattle-based U.S. agency Cole & Weber and Batey Ads, a Singapore-based Asian agency best known for its work on Singapore Airlines. At the end of 2001, WPP bought Berlin Cameron, New York, and made it the centerpiece of Red Cell, with Mr. Berlin as Red Cell’s CEO, following Mr. Lindner’s departure.

After WPP bought Cordiant Communications in 2003 and closed its main network, Bates, many of the Bates offices in Europe were stuffed into the Red Cell network, which grew to more than 50 shops around the world. As recently as mid-2005, Red Cell was still adding new agencies, like Australia’s Campaign Palace.

Late last year, WPP decided to slash Red Cell from 57 offices to about a dozen, and rebrand it as a micronetwork called the Voluntarily United Group of Creative Agencies. Besides Berlin Cameron and Cole & Weber, the new United is keeping a handful of creative shops the network had bought stakes in over the past few years, like Les Ouvriers in Paris, Sra. Rushmore in Barcelona and WM in Buenos Aires. But London remained a problem, even after WPP bought 49% of HHCL, a former London hotshop past its prime, from Chime in 2003 for $6 million.

$4.7 million buyout
Now WPP will buy Chime’s remaining 51% stake in HHCL United for $4.7 million and rename the agency Voluntarily United Group of Creative Agencies, or simply United. Messrs. Kelly and Campbell return to WPP as joint managing partners of United; the group’s chief executive, Nick Howarth, and creative director, Jonathan Burley, left late last year.

Mr. Kelly left Y&R in 2004 when his five-year earnout from selling Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe ended. Mr. Campbell quit Y&R two years ago to join Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann Erickson, but announced in December that he was leaving the agency, where he was exec creative director and VP for Europe, Middle East and Africa. Completing United's U.K. management team, Steve Henry, the second “H” in HHCL, remains chairman.

Mr. Berlin was in London today to help mastermind the restructuring of the U.K. shop. “Some of the networks sell uniformity, but that’s not what United is about,” he said. “We are highly individualistic. We want to be competitive through strength in individual markets and through our people who know each other and work well together.” ~~~

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Voluntarily United Group is WPP's fourth network when in fact it is the fifth. The story also incorrectly stated that Mr. Kelly and Mr. Campbell would have a role leading the network, in fact there roles are leading the London office.

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