Editorial: Keeping clients all in the family

Cohn and Wolfe’s grand announcement that it plans to emerge from the shadow cast by its big sister Burson-Marsteller may cause some head scratching in the UK at least. Here, the two companies have always had separate offices and a distinctly different culture - the words chalk and cheese spring to mind - so why all the fuss?

Cohn and Wolfe’s grand announcement that it plans to emerge from

the shadow cast by its big sister Burson-Marsteller may cause some head

scratching in the UK at least. Here, the two companies have always had

separate offices and a distinctly different culture - the words chalk

and cheese spring to mind - so why all the fuss?



The force of the argument only becomes apparent when you look at the

global market. All the big international agencies - Cohn and Wolfe

included - have spotted the trend towards globalisation among larger

clients and are clamouring to sign up multi-national business. They have

sound reasons for doing so. This kind of business pays well, and

provides some much needed financial stability; and it is one area of the

PR market where the big agency networks have the advantage over smaller

niche players.



If the predictions of global agency chiefs come true, then an

increasingly large proportion of their total business will come from

exactly this kind of client over the next few years. But this in itself

will also bring increasing pressure from potential client conflicts.

Agencies therefore need to find another way to compete for this kind of

business - by having another agency brand. Hence Omnicom has both the

Porter Novelli network and Ketchum; Shandwick retains Golin/Harris in

the US; and Fleishman-Hillard has also mooted creating another

brand.



But to be genuinely competitive, sister brands must have distinctive

differences. Significantly, Cohn and Wolfe has chosen to make a virtue

out of its decision not to ape the controversial non-geographical,

practice management structure adopted by B-M. There is much logic in

this. There would be little sense in a parent company like Y&R having

two replica networks slugging it out with each other for the same

business.



Having separate agencies allows the group another chance to pick up

business which would otherwise be lost to them. Having a different

structure for C&W also allows the smaller agency to go after clients

(and there are some) who are uncomfortable with a practice management

arrangement.



As many have predicted, the global PR consultancy market is polarising

between big international agencies and strong niche players in

individual markets. It will become increasing difficult for the more

loosely formed networks which cannot offer a strong and homogenous

culture to compete successfully for multinational business.



But as the first signs of a genuinely global PR consultancy market

appear, we should not be surprised to see sister agencies - although

most definitely not identical twins - blooming side by side.



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