As PR Week went to press, the pens were poised on Chime
Communications’ long awaited purchase of ad agency HHCL. The deal -put
together with a little help from WPP - will see Lowe Bell and HHCL
continuing to operate independently, while the interesting combination
of Piers Pottinger and Rupert Howell will act as joint chief executives
of the merged group.
The deal answers some questions about the next stage of Chime’s growth by
doubling the size of the business at a stroke, and this will undoubtedly
help Sir Tim Bell’s stated ambition of improving the group’s ratings in
the City. But at first glance the two firms make an odd couple. Their
cultures seem poles apart - with Bell’s ’mover and shaker’ style and close
association with the ancien regime on the one hand, and HHCL’s brand of
radical but politically correct advertising and ’3D’ communications on the
Strategically, however, the deal looks inspired. It will not only add a
new range of skills to the group, but it will also help to deflect
attention from Bell himself as the pivotal figure in the operation and
reduce the significance of his links with the Tory old guard. More
importantly, it will inject some new excitement into the Chime brand.
Aside from the new business possibilities this will undoubtedly bring, it
will also help Bell raise the firm’s profile among City investors.
The link with WPP is crucial to the deal, in that it offers HHCL access to
an international network of ad agencies including JWT and Ogilvy and
Mather. But it also gives Lowe Bell the tantalising bonus of international
connections with Hill and Knowlton and Ogilvy Adams and Rinehart.
Back in 1991, when a merger was mooted between Lowe Bell and Shandwick,
part of Bell’s motivation was to gain access to an international
Since then Chime has continued to thrive and has gained a public listing
in its own right, but the need for a global presence to mirror client
structures is in itself an attractive reason for getting into bed with
WPP. The only question is how such an arrangement could be made to work,
both culturally and practically.
Any such cross-agency co-operation is expected to be conducted on a purely
informal basis, which is probably just as well. For as other global groups
have found, forging closer ties between such strong agency brands can be
an unsettling process for both clients and staff, and insiders in WPP’s
PR camps are already nervous about the prospect of international
co-operation between such different agency cultures.